In November 2018, I joined a familiar group of people to see English singer-songwriter, Frank Turner, play at San Fran in Wellington, New Zealand. I say familiar because I could see something of myself in each of them. We were all aging quicker than we’d care to admit. We were all, at one point, comfortable near the mosh pit but now found safety on its fringes. We all wore black t-shirts and drank craft beer.
The level of familiarity extended to the man we were there to see: Turner is a mid-30s, former-hardcore rocker who, these days, is punk through philosophy more than through practice — although he is not too far removed to have stopped stage diving.
His white shirt was a little jarring, however.
Turner opened his concert as he does all his shows, outlining his two rules:
One, don’t be an asshole.
Two, if you know the words, sing along.
Good rules for a concert.
Great rules for life.
Frank Turner’s concert introduction is consistent with many of the messages his music carries. The best example is his most recent album, Be More Kind. He openly admits to having borrowed those words, with Clive James and Kurt Vonnegut both serving as inspiration, but it’s the sentiment that is important, not the semantics.
I’ve taken Turner’s album title on as a bit of a mantra, and I often find myself singing along to his words when things get a little challenging,
In a world that has decided,
That it’s going to lose its mind,
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind.
There have been plenty of moments in my life where I haven’t been kind to others, and when others haven’t been kind to me. I’ve found that I have a level of awareness now, mostly learning and inspiration from being a parent, that means I can better avoid or respond to those moments.
While the philosophy to be more kind is something that I’m trying to instill in my interactions with others, I’m increasingly finding it is a reminder that I need to give my own consciousness. The moments where I’m not kind to myself, where self-doubt, anxiety, guilt, and disappointment take over, are my biggest kindness challenge. Learning to be mindful and to develop the skills for these moments is an ongoing process.
I’m grateful that the world is opening up to these conversations and that the kindness we’re showing each other is allowing people to develop better awareness and skills around being kinder to ourselves. Sadly, the change is coming too late for many. New Zealand’s suicide rate between June 2017 and July 2018 set a new record. Māori are over-represented. Men are over-represented. Young people are over-represented. Every single name is an over-representation.
There are many organisations doing impressive work in this area, and they are fighting for every dollar, every inch of help they can get to rein these numbers in. Their work is vital in combating this epidemic and making change at a national level. We can all get involved, and supporting initiatives like Gumboot Friday and Pink Shirt Day is a way for us to contribute something small towards making big change.
I’m privileged to have heard some very personal stories about how seemingly small initiatives have had massive impacts on the lives of people who are feeling vulnerable or at risk. Because of my current role at Redvespa, those stories relate to Your Kingdom: a guide to wellbeing and potential. The work of Jamie Gibson, this book is a very personal exploration of many of the themes that are impacting on our young people. It is infinitely scalable to people at any stage of life.
Lately, I’ve been skipping straight to the section on self-talk. Using the hummingbird as its icon, Your Kingdom encourages us to,
Be optimistic and kind when it comes to what messages we send ourselves.
This isn’t a sales pitch, you can find Your Kingdom online for free here, and there are as many different tools and approaches to mental health as there are causes of self-doubt and anxiety. There is no one-size fits all for mental wellbeing, but this is something I’m exploring, and that I know others have found value in.
In the end, it’s the mantra of Frank Turner that has become a core personal value for dealing with myself and with others. I’ll leave you with the words of one of his inspirations, Kurt Vonnegut,
“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”