Kindness. Contemplation. Creation. Connection.
The Kindness Flag Project is an idea conceived by Ingrid Tamboline as a spontaneous response to the June 16, 2011 Stanley Cup riots in downtown Vancouver, BC. It was swiftly embraced by the public, and became a small but significant movement of healing and transformation.
Unable to join forces with the thousands of caring and dedicated citizens who helped with the monumental clean-up of Vancouver, but wanting to contribute, Ingrid felt she had do something to help people express themselves in a creative and positive way. As an artist she did this the only way she knew how: Through art.
So, she gathered together scraps of fabric, art supplies and string and set-up in front of the Bay. With the help of selfless volunteers, five Kindness Flag Project events took place over ten days. The Project was inspired by the UBC Museum of Anthropology’s 2004 Peace Flag initiative during the visit of the Dalai Lama to Vancouver.
The process of considering what kindness means to an individual, how to represent it and then to take the time to create a flag is a transformational experience. The deliberate and focused consideration of kindness converts negative emotion into positive emotion.
In a flourish of artistic expression by the public, in the days following the riot strings of Kindness Flags bloomed around the city in what can be considered true public art. The public collectively created a public art piece that centred around the concept of kindness.
The hope was that thought transcends matter, and the messages of kindness, clarity and insight adorning the flags would be teased off by the wind and carried outward. As a fluttering leaf releases oxygen, these messages would radiate reminders of what is essential to all of humanity, and carry them into the future to take root.
Flags are symbolic. They unite and divide. They are passive and active. Their movement draws attention to them. They are mnemonic devices. They tell stories. They remind us of who we are. They remind us of who we can be.
Although the riots were destructive, shocking, frightening and seemingly pointless, they were paradoxically, a catalyst for building unity within the city and for making profound connections between people.
In the wake of the riots, it is possible to see they were not without a purpose. In creative and novel ways, citizens poured forth a flood of gratitude for the efforts of the police, first responders, doctors, hospital workers and city workers. Thousands of volunteers fanned out into the city to help with the clean up. They swept, scrubbed, picked up garbage and painstakingly picked up shards of glass, one piece at a time.
While the media was broadcasting sensational recursive images of destruction and violence to the world, with a force equal to, but gentler than, the night before Vancouverites and even visitors to the city donned rubber gloves, carried buckets, mops and garbage bags, and set-out to transform this force into a positive one.
It is natural to question why something like this would happen. We can learn something about ourselves from it. Thousands of people were prompted to talk about what constitutes a society, and what is essential to human happiness. Perhaps kindness and compassion is a normal state, which is why it wasn’t as interesting to the news media as the riots were. Because of the riots, people are beginning to look more carefully at our society in a constructive and meaningful way. Society comprises us, is composed by us, it does not stand apart from us. It is an organism as are we, and must be treated well holistically in order to be healthy.
We all have a choice to celebrate what is good and loving, what is courageous and life-giving in all of us no matter where we are, in Vancouver, in BC, throughout Canada and around the world.
The rewards for the effort – concerted, concentrated and disciplined effort – to practice kindness every day are immeasurable.
We are in this world together.