Chris Coleman has made a habit out of turning his birthdays into do-goodery.
Six years ago, when he hit 60, he raised $10,000 in cash and books for children’s literacy.
At 45, he celebrated with a silent auction, the proceeds split between a Somali refugee and children with disabilities.
At 40, his first donations-instead-of-gifts effort brought in $800 to be applied to the national debt. If today that choice of cause seems a bit of a head-scratcher — kind of like Joaquin Phoenix rattling on about dairy cows at the Oscars — apparently it was a big deal at the time.
This year, the former Victoria city councillor is taking a different approach: He just wants us to be kind — and he wants to reward someone for doing so.
Really, he says, we celebrate achievements in sports, film, science and whatnot, so why not recognize common decency in the same way? “We don’t actually give prizes for being kind.”
So, by the time his 66th birthday arrives Feb. 28 he hopes to be inundated with entries from people committing themselves to do something kind for others this March. From all those entries Coleman will select the winner of the inaugural Gudonya Cup (sound it out for the meaning). The victor will earn a small keeper trophy, a basket of goodies, a nice (and possibly used) teacup and saucer and (again possibly) brownie points in the afterlife (I may have added that last bit myself).
What the award-winning kindness looks like is up to you. “Maybe you can commit to holding the door open for 100 people, or maybe take meals to a shut-in,” he says. “Impress me, tug at my heartstrings.”
Yes, it’s something of a goofball initiative, he says, but one that is seriously needed.
Why? Because there’s way too much anger these days. Way too much toxic indignation and outrage. And it’s sucking all the oxygen out of our lives.
“A lot of us have been concerned for a long time about the distemper out there,” Coleman says. “All the focus is on the things that piss us off.
“If you’re kind or you’re nice, you’re seen as a milquetoast. It should be a sign of strength.”
This isn’t the first attempt to foster kindness, of course. The Gudonya Cup was inspired in part by Coleman’s Anglican bishop father who, as a founder of Camp Columbia on Thetis Island, would bestow tongue-in-cheek trophies fashioned from frying pans on campers who did good deeds. Random Acts of Kindness have been a thing for a quarter century. And we have had some high-profile campaigns start right here in Victoria.
In 2002, with the world still reeling from 9/11, four UVic students — Val Litwin, Brad Stokes, Erik Hanson and Chris Bratseth — gave us the Kindness Crew. They piled into a motorhome for a 110-day cross-Canada journey, the Extreme Kindness Tour, which included stops during which they helped out in soup kitchens, cut alfalfa, roofed houses, broke horses, herded buffalo and performed Shakespeare at a seniors home. A best-selling book, Cool to Be Kind: Random Acts and How to Commit Them, resulted.
That was followed in 2006 by The Buried Life, an initiative in which four more Victoria university students — Ben Nemtin, Dave Lingwood and brothers Jonnie and Duncan Penn — set out in another RV to cross items off their own personal bucket lists and help strangers do the same. They took a seriously ill man to a Penticton tattoo parlour, bought a cheap vehicle for a down-and-out guy in Kelowna, and arranged a date with the Stanley Cup for a Kamloops mother and son. Their initiative turned into an MTV reality show and resulted in a book, The Buried Life: What Do You Want To Do Before Your Die?, that topped the New York Times bestseller list in 2012.
Kindness doesn’t have to be on that scale. Sometimes it’s just a matter of holding an umbrella over a stranger’s head, or making a quiet gesture at the right time. Coleman, who once spent a year playing rugby in New Zealand, was deeply affected when a gunman killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch last year. So, emulating a man in Manchester, England, he joined a vigil outside Victoria’s Quadra Street mosque with a sign reading: “We are your friends. We will stand watch while you pray.” He did that during each of the five calls to prayer on each of the five Fridays that remained in Lent.
Should you want a crack at the Gudonya Cup, send Coleman a personal message on Facebook. (Here's the link to his profile.) Alternatively, we could all just treat kindness as its own reward.