BUSINESS MAVERICK 168 INTERVIEW
Meet Good Things Guy Brent Lindeque, the architect of the kindness movement
In a world where you can be anything, be kind. The phrase might not have been coined by Brent Lindeque, but the Good Things Guy lives by it.
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
Many will remember the ghastly Neknomination bro’ drinking challenge circa 2014, which required a “nominee” to film themselves emptying quantities of alcohol down their throats, post the video to social media, and nominate another “victim” to do the same. No surprises, but at least five deaths were linked to the idiotic dare (chugging back a bottle of vodka could do that) and many took ill, underscoring the unmitigated stupidity of it all.
Because boys will be boys. Right? Thankfully, that’s a generalisation. It’s also part of the appeal of the Neknomination foil, which saw nominees perform “random acts of kindness” instead and then use the power of social media to amplify a positive message.
For Brent Lindeque, the architect of the kindness movement that evolved in South Africa, it became a life’s mission to do good.
Lindeque’s good deed (instead of chugging back a brewsky) in January 2014, which entailed simply giving a homeless man a meal and then nominating two of his friends to do the same, became an instant viral sensation, catapulting him to media stardom.
Life changed when he switched up the Neknomination challenge, explains Lindeque. “At the time, I had Chaos Theory, my events and brands activation agency, and did a lot of corporate work. We imported photobooths from the US as well as Flogo machines for inflatable logos which we used in brand activation. I loved working in corporate.”
Lindeque, who had never been in the media space before Neknomination, was, suddenly, in popular demand: ANN7 picked up on the story and he did his first TV interview with media icon Gerry Rantseli-Elsdon, followed by veteran 702 presenter John Robbie, Gareth Cliff on 5fm and Australian Morning Live. Over the subsequent weeks, he appeared on numerous television and radio stations, including Carte Blanche, eNCA, CNN, BBC as well as being mentioned on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and in Oprah Magazine.
“I was thrust into this whole space. It was a bizarre three weeks of crazy interviews. I was getting thousands of messages and comments, with people from around the world telling me about the good things they were doing.
“It got me thinking about how such a simple thing that I did had inspired them to share kindness. I also realised that there’s more good in the world than bad.”
Mainstream media exposure focuses on the hard news and the bad, but Lindeque found himself in a space filled with beautiful stories, which often had him in tears. “I felt [the stories] needed telling; I had found my purpose.”
Soon after, Cliff left 5fm to start Cliff Central, an online content hub that was open to ordinary people. Lindeque perceptively seized the moment, asking Cliff if he could tell good news stories. Cliff responded at once and, for the next three years, Lindeque cut his teeth in radio, with his own show.
“My first show was terrible. But I was there to learn. It was a beautiful time in my life. The show started with five good [news] stories from South Africa, then I would interview someone. I realised though that those five stories were hard to find and I was digging deep to find them.”
The audience was also limited to Cliff Central listeners but the stories, Lindeque realised, were so important that they deserved a broader audience.
So he started blogging. That quickly grew into a Facebook page, then a website, where content could be shared across social media. His platforms have since grown to include a blog, a website (the Good Things Guy), podcasts, video, social media and radio.
An opportunity to appear on My Kitchen Rules with his fiancé, Andrew Rosson, in 2017 forced him to take a break from Cliff Central because the film shoots were so demanding. But he always had his laptop with him so the writing never stopped.
“I realised I could write more and curate the content. So I resigned from Cliff Central. A while later, Kevin Fine, the GM for Jacaranda at the time, approached me. He wanted to build a podcasting format to add to their terrestrial radio offering. I would appear on others’ shows, talking about my podcasts, or they would play snippets from my podcasts.”
Despite being someone so prominently in the media spotlight, public speaking “scares the daylight” out of Lindeque, but he does so with conviction – to spread messages of hope and stories of ordinary South Africans doing extraordinary work, to schools and corporates alike.
The Good Things Guy, which has grown to more than a million monthly readers, is filled with uplifting stories about people, the environment, business, travel, fun, and sport. This week, the site carried stories about a lifestyle estate opening a fire station to serve the broader community; a new app that pays people to recycle; a team of female police officers who took down an armed gang without firing a single shot; and the tale of Whisky, a dog seen clinging to its elderly owner who was battling financially and about to surrender him to the SPCA, which has a heart-warming ending.
It’s not all rainbows and sunshine news though. Lindeque says his favourite reporter is Mandy Weiner, who has gone from being a “mentor to a friend”, and he is not impervious to the real world. “I read the news daily – mostly on News24, Apple News and the Mail & Guardian.”
Good news is not that hard to find. As a platform to counter the negativity in the world, the Good Things Guy has played an important role in the media during the pandemic.
But the public persona is different from the website. Lindeque says before Covid-19, he believed that others’ wellbeing was most important; then Day 80 of lockdown hit and he had a panic attack, with major anxiety.
“I realised it’s okay not to be okay. I had lost control of my own mental wellbeing. It is more helpful to people to be honest; it gives you space to be vulnerable. We can’t all be happy all the time. It’s taught me the importance of mental wellness and being more honest,” he says.
Lindeque says his positivity was nurtured from a young age. This “south boy”, who grew up in Alberton on the East Rand, had the “best of the best people” around him as a child. His grandmother, a kind person, had a beautiful life.
His dad, who died a decade ago after contracting malaria in Mozambique, was larger-than-life: full of laughter, the life and soul of the party, and a man with many friends. His death was Lindeque’s biggest heartbreak, but his father taught him to embrace every moment.
His mother is his rock – they speak all day, every day. And he remains close to all his siblings. “My life is filled with so much goodness,” he says.
A random act of kindness transformed Lindeque’s life. And while he didn’t appreciate it at the time, with growing self-awareness, it’s been a “gift from the universe”. Not in a fantasist way, but “all the gears clicked into place and moved me to where I am now. My job is important.”
Being a “lucky, lucky guy”, Lindeque says he views himself as merely a conduit – the true heroes are the good people whose stories he gets to tell. Every day.
Where do you get your news?
In the beginning, we trawled social media. Now we get tagged often and sent a lot of content. There’s always something good happening. I read the news daily. Working on social media is exhausting so when I need to switch off, I love a TV series that allows me to tune out. I’m a child at heart.
Why did you choose being ‘good’ as a career?
I didn’t choose it, it’s a gift from the universe. All the gears came into place and moved me to where I am now. My job is important.
What would you do if you were not in media?
I would probably lie on a beach all day. To be honest, I have no idea – probably still be working at Chaos Theory, helping brands do good work.
What books are you reading?
I don’t read books. I used to when I was younger. I am continuously reading and editing my website. [Alice Hoffman’s] The Rules of Magic, the prequel to Practical Magic, has been on my bedside table for a year. I love autobiographies – my favourite is A Million Little Pieces.
Which medium has made the biggest impact on you?
Lessons Covid-19 taught the industry?
From a business perspective, I learnt that working from home (which I have been doing for the past five years) is different from working during Covid-19. You need to take a break. Stopping work and taking time off is important.
Chaos Theory, the events industry business, is closed. Good Things Guy is a beacon of hope, so I’ve been doing double time.
What keeps you awake at night?
I am the best sleeper in the world. I go to bed at 8pm or 9pm, fall sleep within seconds and wake up at 5am. I do worry about things and, during lockdown, the hunger and poverty really stresses me out. We became a middleman for getting people food parcels. We receive hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of messages requesting help. Somehow, Operation Hunger got in touch and I was able to link them up with people.
What do you do to destress?
PlayStation! I love PlayStation! I play silly games, nothing combat-y. And fitness – if I don’t exercise in some form, [like a] 20-minute run, it does impact my mind.
What brings you joy?
Laughter and other people. Seeing others happy, makes me happy. Seeing them care for each other. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.
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