We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love. Tennessee Williams
In the last 2 months I have traveled through 12 international airports and visited 5 countries as a Westpac Bicentennial Social Innovation Fellow, collecting impressions and ideas about how kindness and compassion might lead us into a safer healthcare system.
I’ve been introduced to writers, musicians, consultants and activists. I’ve watched TED Talks by Barry Schwartz and Amy Edmonson and read books by Rebecca Solnit, James Doty and Daniel Kahneman ( and so many more). I’ve tried to follow a thread that seemed to take me way off track, only to find myself right where I needed to be. I’ve talked and I’ve listened.
Here’s what I’ve come to understand: we have downgraded kindness and relegated it to the edges. We’ve come up with unhelpful metaphors to describe the work of love in the world. We say ‘kindness is so soft’ as if it was the first option for poets and bleeding hearts and ‘gentle’ women and the fall-back option for anyone else who doesn’t have the guts to do something ‘hard’. This feminized view of kindness, at home during the Victorian era, has remained virtually unchallenged.
A consequence of this has been to suspect any person, movement or institution promoting kindness as naive, hopelessly idealistic and ineffectual, or even sinister, hypocritical or dangerous. We have learned to suspect assertions of values like kindness or kinship and to put our faith into more selfish, technical, more ‘privatised’ things. Ballatt and Campling 2009
Kindness is not an easy option. It challenges us to be self aware and to go to places that can be messy and confronting. Particularly in the difficult, tiring and urgent business of healthcare.
Just as John Ballatt and Penelope Campling asserted in their book Intelligent Kindness, my aim is to bring kindness into the foreground. To bring kindness into the crowded market place of policies, technologies and reform agendas; with the subsequent machinery of levers and regulations and standards.
There is so much work that kindness and love have to do in the world. They need to be rescued from the perpetually burning building that is our healthcare system.
For Inspiration: Watch the short video made by the Gathering of Kindness team to capture the important work of building a kind and compassionate healthcare system.
Note: I’m writing a White Paper on Kindness with my valued colleague Andi Sebastian. Keep in touch so you will get a copy. It will be released in late 2016.