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Stepping into kindness

This Friday is World Kindness Day. Paths for All's Chief Officer Ian Findlay reflects on the power of walking to share kindness with ourselves and our friends and family.

Published: 10/11/2020

I’ve been delighted by the growing prominence of kindness and being kind in our national consciousness. It appears as one of the core values in Scotland’s National Performance Framework. Showing kindness to each other has become common parlance with many national leaders, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. Our very own First Minister has talked on a number of occasions about love, kindness and solidarity. 

Kindness to me operates at many levels. I’d like to explore this through my own lived experience and how the simple act of walking can often be the key to kindness.

We usually think of kindness as a value to be applied to others. However, I’d like to start with the idea of showing kindness towards ourselves. Being active, for example walking for just 30 minutes, 5 days a week for adults, is all it takes to significantly reduce our risk of many serious health conditions and to improve our mood. So finding the time to go for a walk, to give ourselves the permission to walk daily, especially if we are busy or finding life difficult, is one of the best ways in which we can be generous and considerate towards ourselves. I know deep down how fundamentally important walking has been for my growth, health and wellbeing throughout my whole life. 

We most commonly think of kindness in the context of being kind to others. Over the last couple years, I’ve discovered how important walking can be as an act of kindness in my own family. I have a 4 year-old granddaughter who loves going for a walk and exploring wildlife with granny and grandad. One of the kindest things that Andrea and I can do for Phoebe is nothing more complicated than to give Phoebe our time to go for a walk. In addition, for me, as an ecologist and someone with a passion for wildlife, I also love exploring wildlife with Phoebe and seeing her (and my) connection with nature deepening.

Then at the opposite end of the age and family tree spectrums is my Dad. He’s been an extremely active person all through his life. That is where I get my passion for Scotland, outdoor activities and wildlife. However, due to simply getting older and health challenges, Dad can no longer go for a walk himself.  So, as with Phoebe, one of the kindest and most rewarding things I can do for Dad is to take him for a walk in his wheelchair. I can literally be his legs again. What a gift for both of us that is!   

That’s one of the lovely aspects of being kind, it’s mutually beneficial. There’s now a lot of research that shows that a major way we can boost our own wellbeing is by being kind to others. Being kind increases life satisfaction and even affects our bodies positively at a cellular level to reduce aging.  

My own family experiences also show an inter-generational aspect to family walking. My love for outdoor activities and for Scotland came from Dad’s kindness in taking me for walks. I’ve naturally passed this on to Lianne, my daughter and now to Phoebe. I’m also in a sense reciprocating Dad’s kindness by enjoying taking him for walks. Maybe in the fulness of time Lianne and Phoebe will do the same for Andrea and me in our dotage (!) and so the cycle of love, kindness and family solidarity will continue down the generations through walking.    

So never under-estimate the power of walking in terms of sharing kindness. Either going for a walk by yourself or going with others and simply enjoying that precious time together can have enormous physical, mental and social health benefits for everyone involved. In particular, think about taking someone for a walk who otherwise would be unable to do so.  

Many of us are in the middle of Paths for All’s Step Count Challenge. It’s all about incorporating walking into our working lives, which is a fantastic way of showing kindness to your colleagues and to yourself, which in turn has so many positive benefits in terms of the way we feel about work, our colleagues and life in general.  

Enjoy taking your steps into kindness, it really does help make the world go round in a happier and healthier way!