The Kindness Pandemic: Light in the Darkness of the Coronavirus


On the evening of Monday, March 16, I took to my personal Facebook page to share some thoughts and feelings.

Earlier that day, our team had been told that we were going to be working from home due to the threat of the coronavirus and as someone who is very open, I wanted to share my story and show others that it was OK to be feeling anxious.

The premise of my story was to show people to be kind to themselves in this time of crisis and be kind to one another and the response I received was overwhelming.

While it wasn’t a cry for help by any stretch, family, friends and acquaintances banded together to send me messages of support and well-wishes. Some people who I hadn’t heard from in years, were sending me videos of otters, photos of their babies, inspirational quotes or just a simple check-in message to make sure I was OK.

And almost two weeks later, they haven’t stopped.

I, of course, have been doing the same for my network. Reaching out to those I know who are particularly struggling, whether it be mentally or financially or seeing if I can lend a hand in any way I can.

Then, that same week, I happened upon a Facebook group where people were sharing stories of random acts of kindness — The Kindness Pandemic — which has one message: Be kind to one another.

Dr Catherine Barrett, a Melbourne based doctor, educator and researcher who started the website Celebrate Ageing, founded the group on March 14 with 1k members joining within a couple of hours.

Now, The Kindness Pandemic has over 360k followers and counting, which, as Barrett says, is at a rate of 50k a day.

I spoke to Dr Barrett for TheLatch— about the initiative and what drove her to create the movement.

Kindness Pandemic
“Take what you need.” Angela Simpson, Facebook.

Anita Lyons: Dr Barrett, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us when I know you are incredibly busy. The Facebook group is amazing. Where did the idea come from?

Dr Catherine Barrett: I set it up because of the anxiety that I was seeing on social media. People were anxious about the news of the coronavirus, the actual virus itself and what was happening to other people. They were also anxious about the behavioural responses, particularly the stories of hoarders and panic buyers and aggression in the supermarkets.

AL: Was there a tipping point for you to start the group?

CB: One of my friends posted on social media that she had gone into the local supermarket and the staff had scratches and bruises from being attacked by customers, and she did a post saying; “come on people, we’re better than that”.

The stories of people behaving badly were sort of spiralling in on themselves and people were posting about those saying “this is disgusting” and “you’re all crazy”, and it was just some kind of negative vortex and some people saying: “tell me there’s kindness in the world” and I thought, well, there is and we just have to focus on it.

People were also saying to me, “this could be a turning point, people could really look out for each other”. I thought, turning points are not often accidental. If we want to create a better world, we’ve got to get out there and make it happen.

I set up the Facebook group to focus on kindness and encourage people to share their stories of kindness and it might be a place that people could see that humans are fundamentally good.

“If we want to create a better world, we’ve got to get out there and make it happen.”

AL: Where do the acts of kindness come from?

CB: You know, I think we had 1000 people in the first three or four hours and then it’s just skyrocketed since then and we’ve got people from all around the world.

We started with a campaign of random acts of kindness in the supermarkets because of that story I shared with you (above) and even Woolworths came on board and supported that which was good.

AL: The Kindness Pandemic also has a website and includes some very important campaigns like your most recent healthcare one. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

CB: We launched a campaign for healthcare workers because in the news this morning, I heard that a couple of workers had contracted coronavirus through their work. So, we launched an online certificate called Healthcare Hero. People can share the award on their social media and tag their family and friends who are healthcare workers.

People in the group were saying that they were delivering pizza to the local Ambulance and Emergency services, or making cupcakes and because there’s a brains trust of 300,000 plus now, people were saying that services may not be able to accept it because they don’t know where it comes from, or the timing’s not right and we don’t want people interfering with the health services unless they need to. So, this hero award was an idea to send it to a healthcare person directly and tell them they’re doing an amazing job.

Healthcare Hero Award. The Kindness Pandemic.

AL: I can imagine you don’t know everyone in the group, so have you seen many of these pop-up?

CB: Usually we are telling people to post into the group and tell us what you’re doing, but this one we’re saying, don’t post it to the group so we’re not quite sure the impact it’s having yet, but I have noticed on my personal Facebook feed, because the certificates are bright yellow, that I’ve noticed lots of people are getting on and doing it. My Facebook is starting to light up!

AL: Was there a specific moment that you realised you were onto something incredible?

CB: I knew the next morning at about seven o’clock because I could see it starting to grow. My friends joined in and when they looked at it, they said, “well, this is amazing” and because I was getting really busy, I asked if they would join me. That was another turning point for me knowing that when my friends wanted to be a part of the team and help manage it. We’re growing over 50,000 a day.

AL: Are there specific posts that you’ve seen which have really made you smile?

CB: I like seeing my family post, it’s always a little bit of a treat.

[Looking through the posts] Here’s one. So, Aaron says: “My psychologist actually suggests this page to me. It’s fantastic. It’s a nice change to know that there are many beautiful people in the world.”

Melinda says: “I am self-isolating and a friend from the next suburb just called to see if I need any supplies and I was telling him I was fine, I just need human contact. Then he told me” — oh, God, I want to cry — “then he told me to go to the balcony and there he was waving.”

AL: What can you teach us about kindness?

CB: I talk about three different effects of kindness. The first is that if we do a kind act for someone else, it has a positive impact on the person who did the kind act.

Then I did a post recently and I said to people, “what does it feel like to deliver an act of kindness to somebody, what’s it feel like to you?” and people got on and said beautiful things.

“I feel connected to something greater than myself” or “there’s no ‘us’ and ‘them’, there’s just ‘us'”, “I feel a shared sense of humanity”, “I feel like I can get through this” and it “gives me hope”.

The third act of kindness is actually posting in the groups because the group is having an impact on people’s mental wellbeing.

“”I feel connected to something greater than myself” or “there’s no ‘us’ and ‘them’, there’s just ‘us'”, “I feel a shared sense of humanity”, “I feel like I can get through this” and it “gives me hope”.”

1AL: Is there anything that you would like to see more of in the group?

CB: People are suggesting campaigns all of the time and two of the ones that have popped up, I think are really important. One is the homeless or people living on the streets. When we created the group it created a lot of discussion and debate. People don’t know how to interact [with them] and they don’t know what to do. So, we want to do some work at some point.

The other one coming up is unemployed or underemployed, so people who are leaving their work or being laid off without pay and there’s a lot of stress about that. Some people have said that their landlords are not charging them a months rent and so that’s a little window. Some people might be able to do that if we had a campaign, and maybe the campaign is to thank the landlord.

AL: And finally, what is something that you can remind people about being kind to one another?

CB: Something really interesting is that some people on the page have said, “don’t boast about it” and I say, if you are kind, tell everybody because cultures aren’t accidental. Cultures are created. And if we want to create a culture of kindness, tell people about it’s because it’s infectious. If people see it they’ll do something. “Oh, I could do that” or “why aren’t I doing that”.

You can follow The Kindness Pandemic on Facebook HERE or head to the website HERE.

The current health crisis is evolving rapidly. If you suspect you or a family member has coronavirus you should call (not visit) your GP or ring the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.