It’s nice to be nice, innit? Sure is, says Juliette Burton. And it doesn’t even have to be a massive gesture for it to have a huge effect.
This year has, for me, been more than a bit shit. And in the midst of this tirade of shit being thrown into the fan of my personal life, I’ve been writing a new show about whether kindness can change the world. Focusing on kindness has been a challenge. Being kind and/or looking for kindness is not easy. But by frick it’s worth it.
I’ve been looking back at specific moments when kindness reared its shiny little sparkly head above the parapet of cruelty and said, “Hey! Here I am! Remember me?! Don’t give up!”
There are times I’ve squished kindness back down and scoffed, “Kindness isn’t real!” Yeah, I admit I’ve done that. Constantly. Kindness can be hard to trust. But we have to.
This new show I’m writing is called Butterfly Effect because sometimes small acts of kindness can have huge effects. Let me show you.
Hand someone a tissue
One day a couple of years ago I was at King’s Cross late one night. I’d just had a huge row right in the middle of the station with my man. HUGE. It was awful. Shouting at each other in public. Totally uncouth.
He’d walked off and I’d just burst into tears, found a corner, slumped down and simply sobbed. Snot everywhere, mascara everywhere. In that moment I was sure my mental health problems were the thing ruining my relationship… because it definitely wasn’t me. (If you were in front of me right now I’d give you a sly smile but I can’t remember the keys to type for ‘sly smile emoji’.)
At that moment of misery and isolation, a random guy walked over, leaned down, handed me a tissue, smiled at me, and walked away.
Now some people might say, “He just wanted to sleep with you.” But I assure you, walking away from someone is not the easiest way to get your genitals in them. Also, I know looks aren’t everything but I was COVERED in snot.
That small act of kindness said, “Hey there, you’re not alone. No matter how bad things seem, humanity’s got your back.”
It also possibly said, “Clean yourself up you’re a disgrace,” but I prefer the former translation.
Small acts can change someone’s world.
I never got his name.
My mum once gave me an article on Stephen Fry’s battle with mental health conditions on the way to one of my first ever psychiatrist appointments. It gave me hope.
Write a letter
When I was sectioned aged 17 for anorexia, a yoga instructor – I’d never been to his classes but I’d randomly met him at the gym where I’d been going far too much… hence, sectioned – was a kindness lifeline.
He sent a letter and some photographs to the hospital I was in. You might think, “What’s a middle-aged man doing sending photos to a 17 year-old girl he doesn’t know?” But I promise you they weren’t dick pics.
Instead they were beautiful images of a beach in Sri Lanka. With palm trees and blue skies, clear waters, perfect sand and an elephant. He told me this tame elephant lives in the wild but comes to the beach to drink water from the locals and they pet him.
He told me the people on the beach live there and are the happiest he had ever met. He told me they live in the moment and treat each other with kindness.
He told me he knew I would go there someday.
I mean, I haven’t. He forgot to put the plane tickets in the envelope. But while I was in hospital, I thought about what he said a lot. A small act from someone I didn’t know had a big effect: it showed me there’s a whole world out there to explore. That there are better things waiting for me. I just needed to stick around long enough to get there.
And then I turned over the letter to see a dick pic. (No. No, I didn’t.)
A simple text
Some friends know that when it comes to mental health, the best way to help is often the simplest. Just a brief message – “Hey, how’s it going?” – via text, WhatsApp, Facebook, email, Instagram, a tweet.
Twitter’s not all bad.
“That small act of kindness said, ‘Hey there, you’re not alone. No matter how bad things seem, humanity’s got your back.’”
In 2014 I wrote a show about body confidence. I worked with two great comedians on it: JoJo Sutherland and Janey Godley.
A year later I got caught up in the ‘beach body ready’ fiasco, a weird news whirlwind which led to a lot of trolls coming at me telling me I’m a feminazi and a nutcase who nobody wants to talk to because why would anyone want to discuss anything with a crazy person. Fun times.
Out of the blue Janey Godley tweeted me saying it was because of me that she wore a bikini for the first time in years and that she friggin’ rocked it.
Her tweet, and all the others holding messages of strength and positivity, helped me get through a baptism of fire when it came to trolling. I can’t fully convey the positive power those messages had.
Small things, big effects.
(I should explain Janey calls her boobs “effects”. I call mine “things”.)
One article about that ‘beach body ready’ furore led to many for Standard Issue – about muppets, mental health and more besides. In every email to me, SIM editor Mickey Noonan has been kind. She calls her writers inventive names, like Lambchop, and phrases things in a friendly, unbusinesslike, weird and wonderful colloquial fashion.
She’s my EDITOR, a person I would usually be absolutely terrified by because I’m the lethal combination of a perfectionist people pleaser with a desperate need for love and attention who is also often late for deadlines. But instead of terror, I feel relaxed, appreciated, less alone.
And together she, Sarah Millican, deputy editor Hannah Dunleavy and the rest of the editorial team and a pack of writers have each contributed a bit to add up to this glorious magazine. [Aw shucks, JB, we’re all blushing.]
Little things. HUGE effect.
Sometimes acts of kindness are simply treating someone in a way they hadn’t expected. All of us can feel like caterpillars – a writer late for a deadline, a person who supposedly doesn’t have a bikini body, a crazy girl, an anorexic, a screw up, a failure, isolated and alone, the crying person in a train station, a weirdo.
Sometimes it takes someone – stranger, friend, colleague, mother, audience, reader – who sees us as the butterfly we are to remind us we are so much more. Kindness brings us back to ourselves.
Butterfly Effect is at the Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh, 2-27 August (not 14 August). Tickets available here.6347 Views
Juliette Burton is a docu-comedian, actor, writer, thinker, dreamer, doer and person. She has a history of mental health problems and loves The Muppets. These two things are in no way linked.