OPINION: Shocking comments aimed at RNLI show woeful unkindness

Comments that the RNLI are offering a "migrant taxi service" show a lack of humanity, argues Christine Webber

Comments that the RNLI are offering a "migrant taxi service" show a lack of humanity, argues Christine Webber - Credit: Mick Howes

As I sat down to write this week’s column, I discovered that the subject #ChooseKindess was trending on Twitter.

This was very heartening, as well as timely, as it was what I planned to write about. And I’d like to start by sharing a quote, which was written over 60 years ago, by the prolific writer and philosopher, Aldous Huxley: “It's a little embarrassing that after 45 years of research and study, the best advice I can give people is to be a little kinder to each other.”

Sounds like good advice to me!

I’ve done a lot of thinking about kindness and about how necessary it is. And I have realised that the people I know whom I think of as truly kind individuals, are also the most mentally well-adjusted and content. I find this very interesting.

Now, sometimes on social media, you could be forgiven for believing that kindness is in short supply – particularly when some poor footballer misses a goal in a penalty shoot-out. But luckily, there always seem to be far more posts that are reasonable, kind and understanding than those which serve up vitriol and hatred.


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However, last week, I was horrified by criticism of an organisation that the vast majority of us value highly – the RNLI.

I’d say that here, in Suffolk and Norfolk, the people who go to sea to save others are among our greatest heroes. We’re aware of our coastline and its hazards.

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And we know that the RNLI makes no judgement about the adults they rescue – even if, idiotically, they have little knowledge of the boat they’re in, the local currents and tides, how quickly the weather can change, or even how much fuel they might need. But these novice-sailors usually live to learn another day, thanks to the skill and decency of the RNLI.

So, to read horrendous and harsh posts about this hallowed institution just because they have rescued people escaping here in the hope of a better life, took my breath away.

Obviously, I have no time for the gangs who organise these journeys and extract exorbitant fees from desperate individuals, before cramming them into inadequate vessels.

But the claims that the RNLI are running a ‘migrant taxi service’ were deeply offensive. What are the RNLI to do in this situation?

Turn their backs on men, women and children who are drowning?

At what point, I wonder, do any of us lose our sense of humanity to the extent that we think it’s OK for fellow-humans to be allowed to perish? Unkindness doesn’t begin to describe it.

Fortunately, kindness reasserted itself swiftly, and donations poured into the RNLI in response. In other words, large numbers of our own population wanted to demonstrate their support for the organisation and its standards, rather than for the mean-spirited individuals who were attacking them. The message was clear: hands off our RNLI!

Kindness of course takes many forms, and one of the most important is volunteering.

Over a decade ago, I attended a memorable conference on happiness and good mental health, and I particularly enjoyed a lecture by professor Felicia Huppert, who is a world-renowned authority on the science of well-being. She was the first expert I ever heard explain that volunteering benefits the volunteer as much, if not more, than the people he or she is attempting to help.

She told us of studies on contentment in various countries, and about how those with the highest levels of optimism and happiness were nations where there was a long tradition of service to others. By contrast, countries where only a tiny percentage of inhabitants engaged in any kind of voluntary work had worrying levels of sadness and depression.

Of course, there could be other factors involved in these results, but in the 15 or so years since that conference, the views of professor Huppert have been widely accepted.

Anyone who volunteers – whether it’s being on a committee, working in a charity shop, helping disadvantaged kids to learn to read, or looking after grandchildren – is likely to agree that what they do gives them a sense of purpose and usefulness which generally boosts their mood.

But even cooking a meal for a friend can bring us joyful fulfilment. As can looking after a neighbour’s dog or shopping for someone who is ill or immobile.

Kindness oils the wheels of society but it also feeds our souls.

Finally, don’t forget the kindness we can share in a compliment. Tell the delivery lady that her hair looks great or let your postman know how much you appreciate the great job that he does. Making someone else’s day by showing your appreciation will make you feel good too.

That Aldous Huxley knew a thing or two! #ChooseKindness

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