Three Lessons We Can All Learn From a British Barber

The standing ovation was well-deserved.

I saw him deliver his speech live, at a TEDx event in Manchester (UK) last year. Some people cried, some people laughed, and some people felt goose-bumps. And at the end, everyone stood up to cheer; to congratulate not only his speech but his extraordinary effort to improve peoples’ lives.

He taught us all a lesson worth spreading; that we can all make a bigger impact than we think. Including you.

This is probably something that you already believe. But do you believe it enough to act?

We all want to make the world a better place. We might have different ideas about what that involves, but ultimately, everyone longs for a sense of purpose; to use their knowledge, their compassion, and their skills to make an impact in the world.

So why aren’t we all doing everything that we can to make the world a better place?

The reality is, that we live in a world where injustice is rife; life is hard for too many people; there are too many problems. It’s ironic, but we feel helpless. Our contribution feels like a mere grain of sand. So we post-pone making our contribution until we have enough to make a bigger impact; a real impact.

Well, what if I told you that what you already have is all that you need to make a real improvement to someone’s life?

Here’s how Ged Kind does it. And, how you can do it too.

Skullfades

Ged King grew up in a rough neighborhood in Manchester, UK. He experienced trauma at a very young age. Life wasn’t vibrant, interesting, or great; so in his mind, neither was he.

He made his escape by joining the British Army, where he found structure, discipline, and respect for himself. He had become a man; a real person worthy of recognition.

His newfound confidence and maturity spurred his drive to open a barbershop following his time in the Army. He had a good team, he was doing what he loved, and the business was doing great. But he wasn’t happy. Why?

At the time that he gave his speech in 2019, he explained that homelessness in the UK had risen by 105% in the last decade. In Manchester, this figure rose to 900%. He saw homeless people everywhere he went. And he couldn’t ignore them.

He knew what it felt like to be on the other side. He had experienced suffering. He knew what it was like to feel neglected; segregated from the rest of society; made to feel worthless.

So he took to the streets of Manchester and started to give free haircuts to people living on the streets. With help from his team, he set up the Skullfades Foundation and made these events regular occurrences on the streets of Manchester and beyond; the team has even extended their contribution to people living in refugee camps.

From Recognition to Respect

The people they help have experienced terrible suffering; they feel disarmed, lost, worthless. But when they sit in his chair, Ged pulls their shoulders back; as he combs their hair, he lifts their chin. As he brushes the dirt off their necks, they begin to see themselves again.

It’s about much more than a haircut. It’s about recognition. For many of them, it’s been a long time since someone looked them in the eye. As they sit in that chair, they have a conversation; they share stories, experiences and advice. They’re made to feel like they matter; like they’re human, just like you and I.

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play.” — Jane Goodall

Your Grain of Salt

Above all, Ged uses his skills as a barber as a tool to communicate respect. He empowers those who have lost themselves to find their sense of worth, through one simple gesture: treating them as equals. Equals who are deserving of help, and deserving of a better future.

And that’s something that you and I can do for someone every single day.

These are some of the lessons I took from Ged’s powerful talk. I hope that by upholding them, you’ll begin to see just how powerful your grain of sand can be.

1. Acknowledge the people around you

Our own lives can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. Even the days that are mundane. We have things to do, people to see, e-mails to reply to, and calls to make. We’re so caught up in our own lives that it’s easy to miss what’s right in front of us.

It could be a partner, a sibling, a parent, a housemate…the person at the check-out counter, the bus driver, or the homeless person sitting on the corner of the street.

Take a moment to stop; to look those people in the eye, and smile. You might just be the only person who’s noticed them all day.

“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.”― John Joseph Powell, The Secret of Staying in Love

2. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes

We’re all different. Our situations feel so dissimilar that they appear distant. We often can’t imagine what it might be like to have someone else’s level of responsibility or their level of ill-health; their level of fame, or their addictions, their struggles, and their suffering.

It’s true, it’s not that easy to do. It’s not easy to imagine how something must feel when we’ve never experienced something similar. But there are ways to find out. You can observe; or, you can ask — What’s your story? How are you doing?

“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.” — Daniel H. Pin

3. We all have skills that can help someone

You might not be a talented barber, but you definitely have many strengths. Maybe it’s a natural flair for public speaking, or you might be a natural problem solver? Maybe you’re an excellent writer, or you have the power to help others with your physical strength?

You don’t need to be a professional anything, you just need to be human. We all have the power to listen. And oftentimes, that’s all that others need.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” — Leo Buscaglia

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