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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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The Surprising Power of Kindness

‘Are you laughing with me, or at me?’

We’ve all asked this at some point. Kelly asks this of her boyfriend’s mother after confessing to drinking seven cups of coffee at midnight and having a conversation with a (literal) family of foxes about whether she should tell her boyfriend she hates Australia before he goes for his Australian job interview.

That humorously absurd scene with Kelly illustrates two central themes of BBC’s comedy, Mum: first, important things left unsaid (she’s still afraid to tell her boyfriend the truth) and second, kindness.

‘We’re laughing with you,’ Cathy replies – and means it.

Mum is just finishing series three, but with all eighteen half-hour episodes on iPlayer it’s becoming a word-of-mouth sensation. Cathy, the titular Mum, is grieving the death of her husband but her adult family look to her for support rather than supporting her. They seem at first to be caricatures: the nice-but-dim millennial son drinking milk from a carton in his twenties; grumpy parents-in-law; foolish brother Derek and his snobbish partner. However, as the show progresses we glimpse the wounds each character carries.

Creator Stefan Golaszewski explains, ‘When you go through terrible things you don’t smash glasses and give big speeches… You sit on the sofa and watch telly and ignore the huge things that are going on in your soul. It’s too frightening to talk about them.’

In Mum, as in life, much is communicated through silence.

During the silences of suffering, kindness speaks louder than ever. At the heart of the show is the ‘will they, won’t they?’ love story between Cathy and long-standing friend Michael. Omnipresent, he’s there helping her clear out her garage, put up her TV, replace the carpets. He is quietly, relentlessly kind.

Cathy is his obvious match in kindness, with her characteristic smile and ‘Okay, love’, in response to insensitive or rude comments. But kindness is contagious. Kelly becomes less self-centred and starts encouraging Derek and Michael. Even caustic Reg tenderly sees to his sick wife’s needs.

Mum is an imperfect model of the perfect kindness of God – and it’s comforting to imagine that, as blundering followers, God is laughing with us, not at us.

Jesus was supremely the embodiment of God’s kindness and love. This world needs to know God is kind. The Bible shows God as consistently kind to people despite our rudeness, foolishness, and insensitivity. In turn, we’re called to empathise with others’ unspoken suffering and respond with our own relentless kindness.


Tanya Marlow
Tanya is the author of Those Who Wait – Finding God in disappointment, doubt and delay. Follow her writing and get a free book at TanyaMarlow.com

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  1. Thanks Tanya. Great piece. You’ve captured exactly why I love (my) Mum!

    By Nick Tatchell  -  7 Jun 2019
  2. Brilliant! Brilliant! both your article Tanya and also ‘Mum’. I hadn’t looked at it as deeply as this but you remind me of the moment Michael, after taking abuse from Jason just absorbs it, understands where it’s coming from and yet still shows kindness and grace! At times, watching the show, I sit on the edge of my seat, wanting to shout at the characters for being so slow, so unkind or so stupid and yet this is what life is life much of the time!

    As much as people wind us up sometime – “You’re gonna miss them when they’re gone!”

    By Steve ROUSE  -  7 Jun 2019
  3. Loved the show, loved your reflections – thanks Tanya.

    By Robert Grayson  -  7 Jun 2019
  4. The article made me think of the kindness of the Lord Jesus. It is notable that he shows this throughout the Gospels. One thinks of his treatment of his mother, from the Cross; his treatment of little children; his insistence on the feeding of those who came to listen to him; his resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene (I find this one of the most moving passages in the Bible), and so on. It is extremely encouraging to know that Jesus portrays exactly the nature of the Father: he shows us what God is like.
    Having recently experienced personally the humbling kindness of one’s fellow Christians enables one to realise how fundamental the kindness of the Lord Jesus is to the Christian life.

    By Tony Dean  -  7 Jun 2019
  5. Great piece and helpful comments, thank you. Surely they must finish up together, mustn’t they? (I know I can watch it on iPlayer but I’m savouring this last series)

    By Tracey Burch  -  8 Jun 2019
  6. ‘Mum’ isn’t anything we get in the States, but, your insight is so needed

    By Andrea Stoeckel  -  9 Jun 2019
  7. Tanya,

    I think we should try to act instead of reacting; that we should measure our response not against the stimulus but against what is the most positive and kind thing that could be done in an instance. Sometimes the most appropriate response and the one that does the most encouragement is no response.

    To extend grace in the face of anger, and frustration shows your kindness and compassion. To love when a person is unlovely is a great gift you can give. To me it is an honor to love someone I love when they are struggling; when their day has gone to hell; when they are one more thing away from snapping.

    To give to a stranger is such an encouragement as well; to step in with kindness and help and step away without being known.

    I think a great encouragement is to choose not to be offended when you could choose to be so. To let an offense hit you and fall away is one of the most gracious and kind things one can do. It may not be recognized at the point in time, but it helps you not be bitter and can help the offender long term to know your gracious choice in the face of their offense.

    By Mark C Allman  -  10 Jun 2019

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