The little things…

So today is apparently random acts of kindness day. Yesterday was national almond day. And on Saturday it’s national love your pet day. Who knew!? But I’m getting distracted now (check out for a whole calendar of these days!) I’m not sure I really believe in ‘awareness days’. I love my cat – and I do happen to like almonds a lot – but I don’t need an awareness day to remind me.

Anyway, I guess the point of these days is that they encourage us to think a little bit more about a particular topic. And knowing that today is random acts of kindness day did get me thinking – about the little things that make a big difference in social care.

When governments and think tanks and policy makers talk about ‘fixing’ social care, they’re thinking funding, structures, services, integration. Green papers. White papers. Large-scale reform. Long-term change.

At a more local level, project managers and consultants and change professionals implement numerous initiatives and programmes and models in adult social care departments. New policies. New systems. New processes. New forms. Big changes, which often make little difference to the day-to-day experience of people who draw on social care.

In the meantime, for the individuals and families seeking support, or already caught up in the dehumanising tangle of our current bureaucratic system, it’s often the small things that make the biggest difference.

The “Hello, my name is…” introductions.

Being seen as a whole person, not as a problem or a diagnosis or a case.

Hearing “how are you?” from someone who is genuinely curious and has time for more than a token “ok” or “fine” response.

Being really listened to, with no agenda or assumptions or interruptions.

Not having to tell your story over and over again.

Being treated like an equal and recognised as the expert in your own life.

Being told when you’ll be contacted and receiving that contact on the day or at the time you’re expecting it.

Receiving a genuine apology when something goes wrong.

A smile.

A cup of tea.

A hand.

A hug.

And little changes in the language we use can make a big difference too. I’ve written many times about the othering language of social care – the distancing, dehumanising words we use with and about people and their families and their lives. Usually the terms have more human alternatives. Usually the alternatives are simply acknowledging the human. Person. People. Us. Not service user, case, the vulnerable, those, them.

So, of course, these little acts aren’t really little at all.

They’re breathing spaces. Glimmers of hope. The building blocks of trust. Shifts in the balance of power.

They’re windows of opportunity. The beginnings of connection. The seeds of relationships.

They’re the core of care and of caring.

So instead of being random and unexpected and rare, let’s make sure these acts are the norm in our better, brighter social care future, and give them space to flourish.

 “We need institutions and cultures where people are kind to each other, where kindness is valued and nurtured in everything we do. Unless we are routinely subject to the kindness of others we will have little kindness to share ourselves. The kindness of others sustains our own”.

Jonathan Tomlinson


Do doctors need to be kind? Jonathan Tomlinson, A Better NHS, 4 May 2012

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