The kindness conundrum

Posted on February 15, 2013


self deprecation

‘Keep that wine flowing – when you’re drunk, I’m funny,’ crowed the compère at a recent comedy night, and the crowd roared with laughter. That wasn’t the only point in the evening that his self belittling quips drew snorts and guffaws – in fact each reference to his beer gut, hair loss and general inadequacy with women seemed to elicit even louder applause. Our shiny-headed host was using the time-old art of self deprecation to bring the funny and connect with us through something we can all identify with – putting ourselves down.

Everyone has an inner critic. Lately I’ve been talking to a lot of people vying for almost nonexistent jobs in the creative arts sector and it seems that those bound to the painfully subjective nature of arts careers are especially vulnerable to self flagellation. I should know, I’m one of them – and my last job application had over 600 other competitiors.

In an economy where creative opportunities are slimming down at terrifying speed – Newcastle Council being the latest casualty at risk of losing its entire arts budget – the spectre of self doubt is never far. It’s easy to take job rejections, ignored pitches and a general dearth of prospects as a personal hit – assuming it’s a lack of talent holding you back, rather than a lack of luck. And it’s not just us mere mortals that have self deprecation demons to wrestle with.

King of neurosis Woody Allen was recently quoted saying: ‘I never make a film I’m not disappointed in’. Perhaps it’s this level of self criticism that’s kept him producing at unfathomable pace for nearly 60 years, but I have to wonder just how much inward whip cracking can be deemed constructive. Twenty minutes into writing this piece I’m already starting to despise my inarticulate scrawlings; but I know that won’t help me reach a Camus-esque conclusion. Watch this space.

Let's go crazy

Spreading joy through swings – new Coca-Cola ad

Is it really so difficult to practice self compassion? Random acts of benevolence towards others are everywhere – as shown by artist Michael Landy’s new project Acts of Kindness. Aiming to eventually display and celebrate examples of everyday generosity and compassion on the tube, the site is currently flooded with touching tales of rush hour thoughtfulness. Then there’s Coca-Cola’s latest campaign ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, which spotlights a rabble of people caught on camera doing lovely things for total strangers – from a woman who high-fives everyone she sees, to a secret gardener.

We’re a fairly caring, sharing and squishy bunch, I’d say. So how about redirecting a morsel of that kindness back inwards? It may even help with your career, apparently.

Self compassion can actually lead to higher levels of productivity and a higher likelihood of improving performance after failure. Maybe now’s not the time to tell prospective employers that you’re this century’s answer to Orwell, but weeping into your pot noodle because your portfolio ‘isn’t good enough’ to land that job 683 others applied for clearly won’t help either.

As for me, I’m not sure this article is Pulitzer-prize worthy but it must be at least deserving of a cuppa and a Hobnob. Biscuity nutrition over crippling self doubt? Perhaps there is something to this kindness thing after all.


Failed –
Coca Cola ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ –