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Connecting through kindness

Isolation has become our new normal because of COVID-19, but psychologist Trisnasari Fraser argues that random acts of corona-kindness may be just what you need to build up your motivation again.
Connecting through kindness Photo by Étienne Godiard on Unsplash.

Trisnasari Fraser

Friday 7 August, 2020

Despite their own struggles, many people in the creative industries have come through with acts of kindness and cooperation to ease the burden for others. From support funds to sharing knowledge – artists, performers, producers, support crew and administrators have banded together to see a way through this crisis. What motivates us to help and what is the evidence around the benefits? What are some things each of us can do to support others?

From very early in the pandemic, the creative sector were quick to establish support funds and helplines, and to share knowledge and resources, through both formal and informal networks. Several months on and the support and collective action continues despite so many people having to further adapt in already demanding circumstances.

When restrictions were first put in place, MP Tony Burke drew attention to artists and entertainers’ inclination to offer their time to those in need and urged that it was time to give back to the arts community by supporting the industry during lockdown. Why is it that artists are generous with their time and talent? Many artists work from a socially conscious place and careers in the arts are often self-directed and values driven. Artists are rightly cautioned against giving things away for free, however following a career driven by passion and internal motivation as opposed to external motivators, can be both a blessing and a curse.

Entertainment Assist raised awareness of the higher incidence of anxiety and depression in the entertainment industry compared to the general population – a sign of the toll of working at something you love. Not so frequently cited from the same research though is the strong theme emerging from interviews with workers across the industry, of a high level of passion and commitment to their creative work. It is likely the same commitment and belief in the value of the arts and culture that have motivated so many in the industry to self-organise in order to help each other and advocate more broadly for the arts.

Self-determination theory is a framework developed by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci in the field of positive psychology. Ryan and Deci propose that when people’s needs for competence, relatedness and autonomy are met, motivation and wellbeing are enhanced. Creative occupations often meet these needs – providing feelings of accomplishment, connection to others and a sense of independence, but as the evidence suggests, we need to make sure we stay mindful of our limitations.

How helping can help

Helping others has been shown to create conditions where the needs of competence and relatedness are met. Feelings of satisfaction and having contributed something meaningful are boosted when people’s motivation to help are aligned with their own values – when they are behaving autonomously. When people show a willingness to lend a hand, the benefits to the recipients of help are also enhanced, suggesting that aligning behaviour and values has positive flow on effects for others. It has also been found that the experience of being helped can lead to considerable changes in outlook, empathy and trust toward others, and can provide motivation to help others in turn.

So, while staying aware of not burning ourselves out, what are some small things we can do to spread a helping contagion?

  1. Check in with others. A phone call and understanding ear is a simple gesture that can mean a lot.
  2. Mentor someone who is walking a similar path. Peer leadership can create a strong network, with benefits for mentors and mentees. Peers often have a better insight into concerns and issues and can help foster connections for people new on the scene. Guiding others often leads to new insights and the reinforcement of learnings for yourself.
  3. Share your talents or interests with others. This can be as straight forward as getting people together via Zoom or social media to share information, discuss common interests or demonstrate skills.
  4. If you are in a position to, volunteer or give to charity. If you can, offer your time or money to a worthy cause. Supporting causes has been associated with both physical and psychological wellbeing. GoVolunteer is an initiative of Volunteering Australia, with several calls for help within the arts and culture sector.

Don’t forget to be kind to yourself. Notice when your energy is waning and take time out. Give yourself credit for the kindness you’ve shown to others. Being part of a supportive network means there are more places to turn when you need help, so don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Another generation of artists is emerging in this strange time, and they are showing remarkable resilience and optimism, no doubt buoyed by the drive and wisdom modelled by their teachers. Small acts of kindness shared by many in the industry go a long way in helping ensure their future.

The Wellness and Recovery Resource is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

About the author

Trisnasari is a psychologist with an interest in the wellbeing and fulfilment of artists, performers, creatives and all those who follow their passions. As well as assisting clients manage challenges of working in creative industries and life in general, she is also completing a PhD. She blogs and has a podcast at iamreadypsychology.com.