When I was six, my five-year old brother started at my school and my mum did a big speech about how important it was to tell her if he was naughty. That way, the consistency of cause (bad behaviour) leading to punishment (smacking) would improve his behaviour and he’d get in less trouble. It was for his own good. First day, he bad-mouths the teachers, throws things, talks without putting his hand up, etc. I probably found it funny. I didn’t want to say anything. I knew he’d get smacked if I did, and smacking hurts. I got home and didn’t say anything. Hung my coat up. Seemingly in the clear. Then my mum asked me directly and I snitched on him.
Well-meaning little ****
Mum shut the living room door so that my brother wouldn’t have to be watched, and smacked his bum. One. Two. Then a sort of almost-smack that sounded muted. He must have put his hands in the way. Then another clean one. Three. I stood outside and listened, and I cried. I thought I was being kind. A bigger, longer-term kindness than not telling on him. My mum thought she was being kind. This was before smacking was generally considered bad, before the naughty step was the thing to do, and the smacking was not done with any anger. She probably hated doing it. But I still felt bad, and my brother definitely thought I was a two-faced b******.
My point is, it’s not always simple to know what the kind thing is, even when we want to be kind. With Joygernaut, my first task was to try to shine a light on some of these complexities. In August 2016, I got a place on West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Summer Sublets scheme. Basically, I sat in a room for a week with other theatre makers and read, talked, and interviewed people in order to create a questionnaire designed to find out what people thought and felt about kindness.
At first the questions were things like:
- Do you give to charity?
- Have you given up your seat for somebody before?
- If you could complete a task in 5 minutes that would take your friend 45 minutes, would you offer to help? What if they asked?
I quickly realized it’s harder for people to be impartial when the questions were about them. We’re pretty much all goodies in our own heads and the importance of maintaining that view of ourselves can skew our honesty. So, I changed things to third person. Or the impersonal:
- Does charity work?
- What makes people cruel or kind?
- Are people only kind if they are being watched?
- What is kindness?
- Are people kinder to people who are good looking / white / male?
I then saw that there were some questions that were very open ended, others that could be made into multiple choice, or just yes / no questions in order to cut out fence-sitting.
I split the thing into two parts, an agree / disagree questionnaire where everything is in the form of a statement. Plus an interview with a few open-ended questions designed to get more detail.
I’d love you to click here and do the questionnaire!
Have a listen above to some of the varied responses to the early interviews.