Kindness Breeds Kindness

“You Are So Very Beautiful,” as told by Mary Kate Turner

Whenever I’m stressed and mad at the world, a small gesture can go a long way  – whether it’s someone complimenting my outfit or helping me carry something, it instantly lifts my mood. A study conducted a few years ago by researchers at UCLA, Cambridge, and University of Plymouth found that witnessing an act of kindness makes us happy; put simply, altruism is contagious.

Uncustomary Art is a blog dedicated to promoting self-love and creativity. It’s run by Mary England, a self-described empath who lives by the maxim kindness breeds kindness. Through her own struggles with mental illness and her work at a psychiatric rehabilitation facility, she has learned to embrace positivity. “Being nice to other people is so important,” she told me over the phone.

This weekend, I found myself in the heart of Fells Point on an Easter egg hunt for “affirmations” – tiny pieces of art with words of comfort and praise sprinkled around the area for passersby to discover. Called “You Are So Very Beautiful,” this initiative was a collaborative effort between Uncustomary and the North Carolina-based art newsletter Craftivism, run by Betsy Greer.

YASVB affirmations
Photo courtesy of Mary England

Mary hosts projects like this throughout Baltimore. In early January, she and Betsy put out a call to artists for affirmations to be mailed in to either Mary or Betsy’s PO Box. The only guidelines were that it should be palm-sized and include a positive message. The call spread across the world and received many responses – a primary school in Sweden even adopted the project into their classrooms, mailing back several affirmations. There were messages for everyone, varying from “you are so very beautiful” to “you are a light” to “you are enough.”

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Uncustomary calls this a “Guerrilla Kindness Event.”

On the day of the art drop, Mary and Betsy met with about ten fellow crafitvists at Café Latte Da on Aliceanna Street, a quirky cafe where employment seems favor neon-colored hair. From here, they gathered their several hundred affirmations and started dispersing them. When I arrived on the scene, my first move was to start finding as many as I could.

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I found my first one within about 90 seconds.

Crocheted, handwritten, painted, stitched, and printed affirmations sat on windowsills. They laid in potted plants. They were tucked into receipt slots of ATMs (see above). They were perched beneath the wipers of parked cars. They littered the sidewalks. Some were more prominently displayed, and some required a bit more searching, but all were meant to be found.

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The windowsills of Fells’ many pubs provided the perfect places to drop affirmations.

Watching people discover these affirmations truly was so very beautiful. Their confused excitement and the instant smiles that lit their faces made the entire experience very touching. Seeing the joy that such a simple act of kindness can bring made me question why we don’t all go out of our way to do more things like this.

We can all give that one compliment that we are at first too shy to convey. We can all hold the door open for that person who is a few feet behind. We can all stop to give someone directions, to ask how they’re doing, to wish them a good day.

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I tucked this one in with $5 and dropped it in a street performer’s bucket.

“You Are So Very Beautiful” successfully spread this kind of positivity. It turned a bleak Sunday morning into the start of a great week. It inspired me to look past all the negativity surrounding my hectic life, to see the best in everyone, and to view upcoming challenges as opportunities. It shared the warm-heartedness that Mary and Betsy so naturally radiate. It showed everyone it reached that they are all loved, irreplaceable, worthy, inspiring, kind, and beautiful.

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Now this one hangs on my fridge, reminding my roommates and me to live with love.

Mary Kate Turner is a polkadot enthusiast and Baltimore-based beer lover. 

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