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Anne Hailes: Small acts of kindness can make an enormous difference

The 'Big Fish' at Donegall Quay - properly known as The Salmon of Knowledge - has become a Belfast landmark as cherished as the the Harland & Wolff cranes Samson and Goliath. It was created by the sculptor John Kindness. Picture by Mal McCann

TODAY is the 58th anniversary of President J F Kennedy's assassination. The drama was hard to watch, fast moving and bloody. Kennedy shot, his wife climbing over the back of the car, the suspect Lee Harvey Oswald being led out of Dallas police headquarters only to be confronted by Jack Ruby and shot at point blank range.

There have always been question marks over the tragedy, conspiracy theories and argument. I watched the 'docudrama' JFK on Amazon Prime Video, about Jim Garrison, district attorney of New Orleans, and his investigations into the assassination. A real eye-opener.

What's In A Name

I'm fascinated by surnames, they tell so much about family origins. At school we had a Mr Fisher, a Baker and a Tailor, we even had a distant relation called Uncle Willie Seawright.

The list is endless, a good game for Christmas. But there is one surname for me that stands out above all others. It concerns the Salmon of Knowledge, a most fascinating creature better known as the Big Fish beached on Belfast's Donegall Quay.

Each scale depicts a scene from Belfast history back to Tudor days, views of the city, newspaper headlines, written contributions from school children and a time capsule deep inside. The genius behind this proud animal is Belfast sculptor John Kindness - I remember interviewing him and his name has delighted me ever since.

It came to mind last week when Hope 4 Life launched this year's award scheme on World Kindness Day. Chief executive Dee Nixon: "Last year we had an amazing event where we got to showcase 30 amazing acts of kindness shown by our local young people to others, from sleeping out to raise money for the homeless to a big sister creating a sensory room at home for her younger brother who has autism, and a young girl who spent her pocket money creating Pamper Hampers for some of her neighbours who were frontline workers."

So kindness is not in short supply. Do you come across it often?

Saturday week ago I dropped my 'hole in the wall' card in a shop. I stood looking at it resting on the floor and contemplated how on earth I could retrieve it - plastic cards are quite difficult to scoop up and, with my back situation, quite painful.

Within a couple of seconds a man in the queue stepped forward and said, "Let me do that for you." What a gentleman.

I thanked him and told him he was a great example of someone celebrating World Kindness Day. I don't think he knew what I was talking about but was gracious enough to smile and thank me back.

World Kindness Day was nine days ago and although it's a worldwide movement, in Northern Ireland the day is set to last months so there's an opportunity to be kinder for longer with the Hope 4 Life awards.

What Is Kindness?

It's being gentle, caring. Kindness is a helpful or considerate act. Last week Lady Gaga, who links kindness to mental health, released a 30 minute documentary during which she talks with young people.

"Kindness and mental health go hand in hand," she tells them. "To me, kindness is not politeness." The Power of Kindness is available on Facebook.

Lady Gaga is advocating for more kindness

I Asked Around

"I was driving on a country road behind a car which was travelling at a fairly slow speed," one man told me, "but she (a lady driver) indicated to the left and pulled into the verge and allowed me to pass. I considered that a kindness."

Fiona told me: "I was feeling very sorry for myself, nothing made me happy, I was overeating and not sleeping. Then my little friend who is 13 came visiting. It was great to see him and I perked up but his kindness extended to six small sunflower plants he had grown from seed just for me. Imagine how that made me feel and as they grew so did my confidence in the future."

Pauline said: "My grandson called with me the other day and asked if there was anything I wanted doing. I couldn't think of anything so he talked me through each room asking me to think if there was something I wanted moving or fixing. I thought that was nice of him to be so thoughtful."

It Can Be Very Simple

I remember trying to find a chiropodist willing to visit my parents and one man who answered my phone call said of course he would come to the house - because I had smiled at him one day in Rosemary Street.

So being thoughtful doesn't take a lot of effort and should come naturally but often it doesn't. I notice men and women are in such a hurry these days that they don't wait to hold a door open for someone coming behind them.

Impatience also seems to strike drivers coming out of side roads but you can be kind and wave them on, more often that not you'll get a wave and even a smile.

Is kindness natural or is it taught? I guess if you grow up with caring people it rubs off and hoping to prove this are the Hope 4 Life NI Kindness Awards - open to young people aged between 8 and 16 years of age - and they anticipate a great response.

Parents, teachers, youth leaders and friends are invited to nominate someone they admire, highlighting their acts of kindness; applications are now open for them to be recognised and to be the stars of the show at the Uberheroes Acts of Kindness Awards Ceremony being held on Saturday March 26 2022.

Hope 4 Life are renowned for being highly innovative and creative through their primary intervention, suicide prevention, mental health programmes called Uberheroes, and have delivered this programme to over 22,000 children and young people across Northern Ireland.

If you want to nominate your child or a young person go to uberheroes.co.uk and click on the page for the awards.

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