"We are so much better and so much more than this", says new initiative Compassion In Politics
We blogged a little while ago about the findings from the Common Cause research group. They revealed the startling poll statistic that most people personally identified with “compassionate” values - like friendship, mature love, responsibility and helpfulness - but believed that others around them mostly didn’t.
Common Cause identifies one of the causes of this to be the way that media and comms frames news according to the credo, “if it bleeds, it leads”. That is, they promote acts of harsh cruelty, or breakdown of values, as opposed to the daily hum of compassionate activity that makes up our societies. People receiving such media thus imagine that the public realm is defined by selfish and non-compassionate actions. What if their media began to tell different stories?
Common Cause urge large institutions to become aware of the selfish, competitive theories about human nature that they might be unconsciously operating on, as they communicate their messages to the public.
On that basis, we’re delighted to find out about this upcoming conference (and what looks like a continuing campaign) called Compassion In Politics. The event itself is scheduled for 20 Oct, 09:30 – 17:00, All Souls College, Oxford, and features voices like Laurie Penny, Harun Khan (Secretary General of the Muslim Society of Britain), Professor Danny Dorling, Lady Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Julian Baggini, Mayor Magid Magid, Marina Cantacuzino and others.
But we are taken with their statements of intent, which very much chime with our own activity in pulling together collaboratories across the country:
For decades we've been told to believe something that is completely untrue - that we are inherently greedy, selfish, and self-serving. You'll hear it from the mouths of many politicians, you'll read it in the mainstream media, and you'll absorb it from the big corporations. It's because they all stand to benefit. Political parties seek control. Fear sells newspapers. Companies sell a lifestyle we can never attain.
This is no way to live and it’s no way to run a country.
It's making us unhappy. It's increasing inequality. It's making us poorer and weaker as a society.
We are so much better and so much more than this. We help, cooperate, love, and share. Imagine if our political, economic, and social life reflected those values - if we created an environment that promoted our inherent compassion and ability to work together.
Sadly those who seek to argue in terms of compassion are dismissed as naive or woolly thinking. Morality has to many commentators become irrelevant to the political debate.
But what we are calling for is not some utopia. It’s based on the reality of who we are. We give to charity. We share skills and ideas. We look after neighbours, friends, and family. The moments of history that we prize most greatly - the formation of the NHS, the legalisation of homosexuality, the kindertransport that offered sanctuary in Britain to 10,000 Jewish children on the outbreak of WW2 - were all built on compassionate principles.
Through a new kind of politics and with a new set of values at the heart of decision-making we can create a nation that cares for one another, improves everyone’s lives, and protects our natural world.
Their Q&A is also very much worth reading. An extract:
You think that current politicians don’t have compassion?
Actually our point is that everyone feels compassion but the space for it in our daily lives has been limited by the ideology of our government, big business, and media. Since the 1980s we’ve lived according to a political idea that says we are all inherently selfish and greedy and society has been structured to match those ideas: turning schools into exam factories, encouraging a fixation with wealth and property over community and wellbeing, blaming refugees, asylum seekers, the low-paid and benefit recipients for society’s ills.
Unfortunately, not only is that system making the world more unequal, it’s also based on a completely incorrect perception of human nature. We are all so much bigger and so much better than the story we have been told about us. Yes of course we can sometimes be selfish and greedy but we also have capacity for incredible amounts of generosity and compassion and we display that on a daily basis: when we give up our seat on the train, help someone cross the road, give money to charity, help a colleague at work, visit a sick friend, relative, or neighbour. Our lives would be so much happier and rewarding if those values were celebrated and given space to grow.
But there’s no room for compassion (or any emotion) in politics, surely
But the way that we operate now is built on emotions – an emotional attachment to ideas of greed and selfishness. What if, instead, we opened our minds to other emotions – compassion, empathy and cooperation? We are humans. We cannot escape our emotions. So rather than fixate on just one or two at the detriment of the wide range of emotions we feel, we believe we should be cultivating and celebrating our innate compassion and empathy and using those emotions to help guide our political decision-making.