Last week, Dr Catherine Barrett was feeling overwhelmed. Along with the rest of the world, her anxiety around coronavirus was building, and everywhere she turned she could see others struggling, too. “So many of my friends were really spiraling,” she says.
The turning point for Catherine came last Saturday, on March 14.
She was speaking to a friend who’d just visited her local supermarket. Her friend was shocked to see the employees there sporting scratches and bruises on their arms.
“They’d been attacked… wrangling customers who wanted to buy stuff they couldn’t,” Catherine, who lives in Victoria, says.
“And I just thought, ‘We can do better than this’.”
And so, the seeds were sown.
That very night, Catherine launched The Kindness Pandemic’s Facebook page.
Part of her motive was to help contain people’s anxiety – including her own. She wanted to offer the world a sliver of goodness amidst all the stories of “angst, and of people behaving badly”.
As the coronavirus pandemic continued to worsen, Catherine was also desperate to launch her own, uplifting pandemic, promoting acts of intergenerational kindness in the community in the hope they will spread.
“What you focus on, grows,” she says.
“So that was the idea; to take this notion of a virus that spreads and that has actually spread so much fear, and go, ‘We could actually spread goodwill in a way that would help people – in practical help – but also uplift people and give people hope’.”
Since launching The Kindness Pandemic, Catherine’s been overwhelmed by its growing popularity.
At the time of publication of this story, it boasts over 246,000 members – and, true to its name as a pandemic, that figure continues to rise.
Naturally, Catherine’s thrilled about this. And for good reason.
“It means there are almost a quarter of a million people going, ‘Kindness is something I want to be part of’,” she says.
“And I think that’s actually incredible.”
If you want to jump on the loveliness bandwagon, Catherine recommends joining the group.
That way, she says you can scroll through other people’s posts- and be inspired to launch your own acts of kindness.
She also encourages staying connected with others at this isolating time. That may mean sending a text message, or calling someone to check on how they are holding up.
While The Kindness Pandemic is sparking countless acts of good will, Catherine is no stranger to making an impact on the lives of others.
As a doctor of philosophy, she is also the director of Celebrate Ageing, a social enterprise aimed at building respect for older people.
However, despite her background, even Catherine has been blown away by the impact The Kindness Pandemic has had on its members.
She can’t count the number of posts she’s read that have warmed her heart, but one in particular stands out.
“There was a woman a couple of days ago who said, ‘I actually feel really sad and depressed about what’s happening at the moment. I’m really struggling with it and all I can do is offer you this picture of my dog. I hope it makes you happy.’
“And within hours there were over a thousand people who went, ‘Here’s a picture of my dog, take care of yourself’.”
Stories of kindness towards supermarket workers have also brought Catherine to tears.
She recounts a recent one, where a woman wrote about how she bought some chocolate for the staff at her supermarket.
Catherine says the supermarket worker’s response amazed her.
“The staff member went, ‘Oh my goodness, why are you doing this for me? That’s so wonderful, that’s so nice. It’s been such a difficult couple of weeks’.
“And that story epitomises the essence of this,” Catherine says.
“People just doing really, really simple stuff… just lovely acts of kindness.”