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While the idea of sober July has taken root, perhaps we should follow the example of a notable family, and use this month to be kind to each other.
Did you know that this is Kind July? It is an initiative of the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation, calling on all of us to perform at least one act of kindness every day. If we can do that not only this month, but every day of the year, that means that together we 24 million Australians can brighten up each other’s lives 8.76 billion times. The Kellys lost their son Thomas when he was king-hit in Kings Cross in 2012.
Then, a mere four years later, their other boy, Ralph, committed suicide, after being mercilessly bullied at his school and online. After Thomas died, his parents set up the Take Kare program, carrying Thomas’ initials and patrolling Sydney at night to stop violence before it had a chance to start. That program is still very much alive, but it has been joined by a similar initiative especially for Stuart, called Stay Kind. Its aim is also prevention, but in a different way. Every year almost 3,000 people die from suicide in Australia, 404 of them young people. Those are avoidable deaths, potentially averted by all of us being a little kinder, a little more understanding, a little nicer to our fellow human beings. Last April, Stay Kind kicked off with a Stay Kind Day and a footie match between the Wests Tigers and the Parramatta Eels. Kind July is another way of raising awareness. Our new NSW Governor-General, David Hurley, is its patron, and we, I hope, willing adopters of a great idea.
I know from experience how important it is for victims of horrible events to turn those mind-shattering and heart-breaking trials into something positive. Not, thankfully, because I was at the receiving end of something like that. But 20 years ago I wrote a book for which I interviewed 20 of those people. All of them had gone through unimaginable grief, like the Kellys. And all of them had tried to find meaning by translating their anguish into positive action. There was Mick North, whose 5-year old daughter Sophie was murdered in her classroom in Dunblane in Scotland, when an angry man shot 16 very young children and their teacher. North, already reeling from the recent death of his wife, nevertheless didn’t rest until the British government passed two new Firearms Acts, which outlawed private ownership of most weapons. Another was Jayne Zito, whose husband Jon was killed by a schizophrenic while he was on his way home. Jon and Jayne had been married for only months, and she was beyond saddened by his loss. But in the months and years after her partner died, Jayne set up the Zito Trust, which still lobbies government for community care services to the mentally ill. Colin and Wendy Parry built the Warrington Peace Centre after their son Tim was blown up by an IRA bomb in 1993. He was 12 years old. Only a little younger than An Marchal, who was abducted by Marc Dutroux in Belgium in 1995. She was found a year later in a bricked-in basement, together with another girl. They had been raped multiple times and then starved to death. Not long after, another three girls were found in similar circumstances, also as a result of Dutroux’s actions. Since then, An’s father Paul has been the go-to person for successive Belgian governments and even the King when they are trying to put in measures to protect children.
All of them told me the same thing: it doesn’t bring back your loved one (although mythically you hope it will), but it does give you a goal, a reason to get out of bed and the hope that whatever has happened didn’t happen in vain. The Kellys, of course, have found a beautiful, over-arching, new aim with their Stay Kind campaign. Think about it. Bad things happen because we stop seeing other people as human beings. Often, they are made (more) possible by the fact that perpetrators haven’t been treated with respect and sympathy either. What if we could prevent some of them by a kind word, by doing something nice for somebody else? Not because there is something in it for us, but just because we can. And because doing that makes us (and them) feel better. And less likely to take it out on the world. So this Kind July, try it out for yourself. You might never want to go back.