It is important to explore how we can be most useful and kind in a world facing many challenges.
We live in an unfair world. Opportunity is not equal. 1% own as much as the other 99%. War is common. Materialism in the West is God. Old models are not working for the most. Even with this imbalance the 1% use power to impose austerity and hold on, rather than make sacrifices for a greater and fairer world.
For over a hundred years psychologists have been looking at what can go wrong for us; from depression, to grief, to narcissism. For about 20 years positive psychologists have been looking at what contributes to our happiness and wellbeing. For about 10 years mindfulness and some Buddhist teachings have all been used to help us as individuals take more control of our own wellbeing. Neuroscience demonstrates what we have known intuitively for millennia; that secure attachment through empathy is what massively informs our happiness and even longevity.
Wellbeing and social action
So, this got me wondering: what would Rosa Parks have done knowing all of the above on that famous bus ride. She would have been able to name her feelings, identify her anger, feel compassion towards the woman who told her to get off her seat. But should she have got up? No, of course not. My concern has been that much of our work in wellbeing has isolated itself from social action.
There are, and always have been, individuals and groups willing to put themselves on the line to bring about profound and lasting prosocial change, from the Abolitionists to the Suffragettes. They realised that sustainable change was about more than one person and often takes more than one lifetime. Empathy, compassion, and righteous indignation fuelled prosocial change.
This work is far from done. We live in an age which will be viewed by history as pivotal. As we look back now to the build up to Kristallnacht, so will our successors judge the way we have handled the refugee crisis. Our grandchildren could become involved in food wars and look back on the Paris 2015 climate conference with despair, and especially at Trump’s contribution if he withdraws from the agreement. Social historians will wonder why in the face of such riches we were unable to rebalance poverty and social justice.
Supporting prosocial leaders
We at Useful and Kind are trying to address some of these big issues by helping prosocial leaders of all sorts to be the best they can be. We will help them to connect and be the leaders of the change they want to see. Whatever your perspective – whether you favour the rich and wonderful concept of Ubuntu, or believe in the new physics that we are all just related carbon atoms, or have a faith that sees our respective spirits as collaborative – it is clear that we are inter-connected.
I believe that I can only be truly well when my brothers and sisters – be they neighbours or on the other side of the world – are well too. It is about celebrating diversity and difference. Giving, and not counting the cost. Not fighting for what we believe is right, but loving and willing it into being.
A prosocial leader is someone who leads, lives and acts for the welfare and wellbeing of others and the world.
We are developing four initial strands of work:
• a series of networking seminars helping to grow a ‘community of hope in the dark’
• an international year long development programme for 30, under thirty year old prosocial leaders
• a national summer school for 30, Year 11s at Bootham School in York
• geographical hubs in the South West (Bristol), Merseyside and the North East working to support those involved in our activities and developing and supporting prosocial leadership in the community.
We can all be useful and kind: One Earth. One People. One Sky. This is the understanding that will inform our work.
You can get more information via www.usefulandkindunlimited.com