‘Where are the Statistics on Kindness?’ asks Playgroup WA CEO, David Zarb.
I recently read a report from the US which described how a young father was so impressed with how a single mother with three children managed during dinner that he anonymously paid her restaurant bill and left her a gift card and congratulatory note.
My first reaction was how unusual it was to hear something nice in the news but then I had dark thoughts along the lines of ‘have things got that bad in our world that a simple act of kindness is now news?’
Probably because I spend so much time looking at research the next obvious question was ‘how would you know if kindness was going up or down’. There are probably people out there studying this very subject but I haven’t seen any charts or graphs. I have seen plenty of reports on rates of murder, burglary, police crime clearances, cancer, obesity levels, school test results. In fact just about anything you can think of except the nice things we do for each other.
‘Well so what?’ you might say, everyone knows that most news is bad news and the last thing we need is more statistics.
Since we all care about our children, it actually matters very much as there is a lot of research that suggests that the life outcomes of children are significantly impacted by how their broader community is going. Whilst we are now used to all the reports telling us that family is the single biggest influence on children’s lives (not that many of these explain why), the idea that the whole community around children is also a big factor, can be scary. After all I can’t control the community, can I?
Before you rush off to increase the mortgage to move to a better suburb, social capital has nothing to do with money.
Social capital is a term that was developed to describe the social relationships between people and families and institutions such as schools within communities. Researchers use a number of measures to come up with an overall score. These measures include participation and volunteering in the local community; feelings of trust and safety; and social support networks.
Now I’m thinking that all of that connection implies some quality kindness somewhere but what is really interesting is that these community qualities have been shown in many studies to have a strong influence on things such as education outcomes, developmental and behavioural outcomes for pre-school children, crime rates, youth employment rates and youth crime. What is even more compelling is that even in wealthy communities, those who have higher social capital will produce better outcomes for children. In disadvantaged communities the gains for children are even higher.
The most worrying thing about the social capital research is that there is general agreement in the research that social capital is in decline. There is less volunteering and people don’t spend as much time with neighbours or family for that matter.
There are plenty of reasons for the decline including increased working hours and longer travel times and, in WA in particular, we live further from family and friends than ever before.To all those who buck the trend and keep your local playgroup and sports club going you are heroes.
To all those who keep the school Parents and Citizens group and Surf Lifesaving clubs going, your work and your commitment are amazing. To all those who go the local council meeting to talk about the local parks and playgrounds, we need you.
Still we might not all be able to be on a committee but there a million other things we can do. We can say hello to people who share our community, we can say something nice to people we see doing good things, we can talk to parents and children and help make our streets a friendlier place.
Even the couple in Fremantle that told me how great it was to see a grandfather out with his grandchildren as I was walking with my Jordan and Millie one day, how refreshing to be acknowledged, even if they were my children not grandchildren. I must have been looking a bit tired after the trip to the park! The simple reality is that the community is us and we are the community and we all have a part to play in our children’s future. Every little bit counts!