I co-hosted Steve Bustin’s ‘Speech Club’ last night, where he deconstructed Michelle Obama’s 2016 Democratic National Convention Speech.
One of the things she said was that the Obamas teach their daughters to ‘go high’ when other people ‘go low’.
She didn’t mention Trump by name, but it was obvious who she was talking about. In her book, Becoming, she doesn’t have a bad word to say about anyone (except him).
It’s a good motto to live by:
If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Among others, it’s been accredited to Aesop, Margaret Atwood, and Thumper from the Disney film, Bambi.
I’m ashamed to say I don’t always live up to it.
But there have been times when I’ve benefitted from it.
When I was a lowly copywriter at Freemans, we were producing a mini-catalogue for Jeff Banks who was then the chief designer at Warehouse.
(You might remember him from being married to Sandie Shaw, presenting The Clothes Show on TV, and as the designer of the Brownie/Guide uniforms.)
On one page, all the trousers were black, but they’d been photographed against a black background so you couldn’t see any of the detail.
I suggested I view the garments ‘in real life’ so I could write descriptive copy that would tell customers what they were buying. I was invited to his atelier at the Angel, Islington to pitch the idea.
We shook hands across a gleaming white table in his office, and I noted two things. First, that his nails were beautifully manicured. “Oh,” I thought, “So that’s what a millionaire’s hands look like”. Second, that he seemed to be addicted to Extra Strong Mints.
A couple of weeks later, I went back to see all the trouser samples on a rail in the cutting room, so I could make notes about which had pockets, double-stitched seams, belt loops and so on.
Jeff Banks wasn’t expecting me, but when he spotted me from the other side of the room, he came over to say hello, offer me a mint, and thank me for my work.
This busy, famous, millionaire fashion designer even remembered my name. He was kind. That made a really deep impression on me. It probably made me want to work harder.
[Aside: Afterwards, he let me have any garment from the range as a ‘thank you’. I still have the black coat I chose. It’s long, square cut, with a red check design, patch pockets and shoulder pads. Very Alison Moyet. Well, it was the ’80s.]
While working full-time at Freemans, I did an Open University degree. It took six years of part-time study. It was self-funded, and I had to take annual leave to attend summer school each year. It was quite a sacrifice – but I did it, and am now a proud BA (Hons).
The Chancellor of the OU was (now) Baroness Betty Boothroyd (then Speaker of the House of Commons). She presented me and the other graduates with our scrolls at my graduation ceremony in Brighton.
As I shook her hand, she asked me about my experience of being an OUSA rep – OUSA is the OU Students’ Association and I’d done quite a bit of fundraising and run events for them. I was amazed that she knew anything about me!
There were two- or three-hundred graduates there that day, and all the ones I spoke to said she’d asked them something personal.
I couldn’t see an earpiece, she didn’t have notes, no one was prompting her – she had bothered to memorise a little piece of information about all the people graduating that day so each of us would have a personalised experience.
I was most impressed. This busy, famous, high-profile woman was kind. The fact that I’ve remembered it for all these years and am sharing it with you now is testament to what a powerful impact it had on me.
Going back to me being an OUSA rep at Sussex Uni…
I volunteered to do this for four years in a row, for a fortnight each. It was fun.
There was a small nightclub on campus. When I arrived each time, I’d introduce myself to the bar staff, DJ, and security staff there, and buy them each a beer, just to say ‘hello’.
One of my roles was to invite the adult students to a karaoke night which would be held in the main dining room. I spent all the breaks between classes rallying them, talking to them about their song choices, even helping some groups with choreography.
On the night, the karaoke guy turned up claiming he didn’t have the right cables to connect his equipment. I went running all over the place to find him a cable, but when I got back, he’d disappeared.
We decided he’d got an offer of a better gig elsewhere.
I was left with all these excited adult students about to arrive for a big singsong, and no backing tracks for them to singalong to.
So I went to the nightclub and begged a favour. The staff there agreed to help. I went back to the dining room and announced the change of venue.
The karaoke students turned up at the nightclub where the DJ played any request they wanted and let them use the microphone from his booth. And there was a bar and dance-floor for everyone to strut their funky stuff.
What could have been a total let-down turned into the most unexpectedly brilliant night, ever!
I’m sure the staff in the nightclub wouldn’t have been so amenable if I hadn’t been kind, and built a relationship with them.
There’s a card game I enjoy called The Great Dalmuti, where players are ranked from the top jobs (the Great Dalmuti and the Lesser Dalmuti) down to the lowest of the low (the Greater Peon and the Lesser Peon). With each hand, everyone changes rank according to the cards they’re dealt.
In my house, the Dalmutis get the biggest and comfiest chairs, the Upper, Middle and Lower Merchants are then seated in order, while the Peons get the oldest and wobbliest chairs.
The Dalmutis get to choose the rules of the game each time – for example, that everyone must speak French, only speak when they have one hand on their head, or mustn’t show their teeth when they smile. The Peons can get bossed around by the others. For example, they have to shuffle and deal the cards, and serve all the drinks.
Of course, it’s possible for Dalmutis to be dealt a bad hand and move down the rankings, while Peons can get lucky and work their way up. As a player, this can add to the fun and make a difference to how you choose to treat the others.
“Be kind to everyone on the way up; you’ll meet the same people on the way down.“
Wilson Mizner (1932)
What this means to you
Kindness costs nothing.
The #BeKind hashtag was created in 2017 by Lucy Alexander, a mother who wanted to make a stand against online trolling after her son committed suicide. It was given momentum with the death of Caroline Flack.
Now Twitter has been bought by trillionaire, Elon Musk, who has said he’s all about ‘free speech’.
For Twitter to deserve public trust, it must be politically neutral, which effectively means upsetting the far right and the far left equally
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 27, 2022
People are concerned that he might allow users to return who were previously banned for ‘hate speech’ (going full circle, that means we’re back to billionaire, Trump).
I’m not sure how long I’ll want to stay on Twitter. It’s certainly developed a nasty, malicious edge since it was launched. For the time being, it still seems to work for my network of copywriters and journalists, and for promoting events, but I’ll keep it under review.
As a business-owner, you need to constantly rethink the platforms where you are active, and what you say on them.
If you’re not sure about your social media strategy or content, my team can help – and it won’t cost £millions.
P.S. This article also (hopefully) demonstrates the power of storytelling as well as of kindness. Let me know if you’d like us to interview you or your customers and craft compelling stories about your business.