When kindness in the virtual world becomes a reality

I recently applied for an internship with a forward-thinking social enterprise and one of the application requirements was to submit a piece of writing. There was no indication of what the subject matter should be and it took me a good couple of days to think of something to write that I thought might catch their eye.

After tearing my hair out for a while I decided to take things back to basics and write about something that’s been on my mind for a while – technology and our dependency on the virtual world. I was really conscious about waffling on too long (which I probably ended up doing anyway) but I thought I’d share what I wrote with you here. I’d be really interested to know what you think – any feedback gratefully received although please not too harsh! I’m also keen to hear if you agree with me or maybe you have a different opinion – please share it! I’d love to hear more examples of acts of kindness that have transitioned from the virtual to the real world! Here goes…

I don’t know about you but I am finding it increasingly hard to focus. What was the first thing you reached for this morning when you woke up? Each day, I’ve barely wiped the sleep from my eyes before I’m checking my emails, Facebook and Twitter feeds along with my blog subscriptions and whatever else catches my eye. Never before have we been so connected and so in control of how the world sees us thanks to unlimited Instagram filters, Photoshop and image crafting status updates. If it wasn’t for Facebook I’m not sure I’d remember anyone’s birthdays or get invited to nearly as many events!

I recently relocated from Northern Ireland to a city brimming with possibilities and excitement but it somehow feels tinged with loneliness. Everyone on the Tube looks glum as they do their best to ignore their fellow commuters in favour of their Kindle, iPod or copy of Metro. Despite being surrounded by people everyone strikes me as being completely – and wilfully – alone. And that’s fine if you are young, busy and able bodied with 500 Facebook friends to keep you entertained as you get from A to B. But what about people who don’t have access to all of this? What about the elderly?

 James Gray Photo credit: www.irishpost.co.uk

James Gray
Photo credit: http://www.irishpost.co.uk

In the run up to Christmas I came across an article online about an 85 year old Irish immigrant named James Gray who travelled to the city for work as a young man and ended up settling in South London, where he continues to reside today. Spending his working life as a butler James reminisced of a busy social calendar where he enjoyed hosting parties at his flat until, one by one, his friends and colleagues paired off and acceptances to his invitations slowly but surely dwindled. James never married nor did he have children. The reason his story came to light is that James took out an advertisement in the Irish Post to see if he could find someone to spend Christmas with.

The Irish Post is the top selling newspaper to Irish people living in Britain yet only one person – a woman in a similar situation – replied to the ad only to later renege on her offer of spending Christmas with him. In all of London can you believe only one person reached out to this man? No? Well neither could Irish Post journalist Niall O’Sullivan who picked up James’s story and ran with it as a main feature in the paper. The article went viral – global – in a matter of hours and resulted in countless Christmas dinner invitations from Co. Cork to Chile and thousands of Christmas cards from everywhere in between.

What made people reach out to James Gray was the way O’Sullivan told his story and directly appealed to his readers’ empathic natures. He suggested if anyone wanted to write James a Christmas card so he would have something to open on Christmas Day they could send them to the paper and staff would pass them on. It can often be easy to ignore calls for help that we believe we are too detached from to really make a difference. However, as James’s story proves, many small acts of kindness can make a big difference to people in need and can reignite the faith in humanity we’ve allowed ourselves to tune out in recent years. James ended up breaking his 9 year tradition of spending Christmas alone and dined with a fellow Irish couple who had moved to England as he once did.

James enjoying dinner with new friends, Marian and John Photo credit: www.irishpost.co.uk

James enjoying dinner with new friends, Marian and John
Photo credit: http://www.irishpost.co.uk

It’s so easy to share an article or an image on social media and forget about it once you’ve done so. I’m definitely guilty of this. But perhaps the global reaction to James’s story proved that it is possible to connect people online and inspire them to carry out an indiscriminate act of kindness they may never directly see the benefit from. I wonder how many lives we could touch by taking some of our online actions offline to help someone in need?

If you’re interested in hearing more about James and how his story touched the hearts of thousands of people around the world take a look at the original article here.

8 thoughts on “When kindness in the virtual world becomes a reality

  1. Carrie says:

    I completely see why this story has played on your mind, as it has mine, as well. I have a love/hate relationship with the internet these days as it keeps me connected were I would otherwis be seen a hermit but it also keeps me from actually talking to people; wow remember when we actually picked up the phone for a chat, not a text or woe betide us all…..an emoticon!???
    I adore my blogs, I love looking up the news at anytime and and super guilty of wasting hours of my life on Pinterest but recently ( I guess it could be seen as a resolution) I’ve returned to books, I revell in writing letters and cards, in baking, turning off my phone when with friends etc
    Yet here I bloomin’ well am on your blog comments section! Arrgh! X


    • Laura says:

      Hi Carrie,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment! Yeah I see your point about staying connected and I have to say blogging has opened a whole new world to me that I may not otherwise have stumbled upon! I half-heartedly joined Pinterest but it’s not for me, not now anyway. Good job really, I have no time to spend on it! xx


  2. salpal1 says:

    Interesting….Great post! I think it is easy to be caught up in the internet, as you write, and as Carrie mentioned above. So easy. But at the same time, I feel like I am becoming part of a little community made of people who are interested in things I am interested in. What I have seen happen several times is people put out a call fro help – either information or things or even money. And the blogging world responds. I have sent of dozens of hats to different charities around the country. And here at my own work, we have received hundreds of hats and gloves, all because of putting the word out of what is needed. So the reaction to the internet story about James and the Christmas miracle does not surprise me. I think it points to something else as well – people who read these things on the internet search out things they are interested in and find ways to interact and make a difference. Clearly, when reading the newspaper, people don’t have the same level of involvement. So while it might make hermits of us on one hand, on another, it doesn’t. And truthfully? If I saw such an ad in the paper, I might think “This guy must be a pervert or have something wrong with him” and I might not respond, either. How cynical I have become!


    • Laura says:

      Hi and thank you for your comments! It’s reassuring for you to say the blogging community reaches out – I am experiencing that more and more and it’s a lovely thing to see and be a part of!

      I think it’s really honest of you to say you might not have responded to James! I think I might have but perhaps not the whole day, maybe to meet up for a wee cuppa before hand to assess the situation! I sometimes think of old age and it’s a bit of a frightening prospect. I don’t want to be a forgotten person!xx


      • salpal1 says:

        I don’t want to be one, either. My Grandmother lived to 103, my other grands lived into their 90’s. I remember two things they said. One, my grandfather said when his oldest friend died “now there is no one left who called me Johnny”. Wow – a powerful, lonely thought. And my grandmother “we have lived too long, all our friends are dead.” My oldest Grandmother was good at making lots of friends of different generations, and for her, it paid off in that all of her friends were NOT dead. But even with her family and friends, she was lonely at the end, because old age is isolating. So I guess we should do what we can NOW to build a community that cares for its elders, and make friends of all ages, and yes, check on our neighbors and don’t leave people alone. This winter is driving that message home to us here, in our local area two old people have died cold and alone in this horrid weather. So even though I still think I would not have responded to a newspaper ad, I will try to do better in my own neighborhood about checking on people and including them in things.


  3. Laura says:

    I think you are totally right in that we need to invest in the future of our elderly people, it’s going to be our own future later down the line. There are a lot of organisations doing great things here in London which could be so easily replicated around the world. Take a look at casseroleclub.com and goodgym.org for a look at some great ways of reaching out to people without them feeling like they are receiving charity which, let’s face it, no one actually wants! All parties benefit through the schemes and it seems like a lovely way to strengthen the community and make new friends.xx


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