Waking up on June 23rd 2016 in Bristol, I came down to a pensive husband who had let me sleep rather than wake me with the results of the EU referendum. I knew then something was wrong.
I had felt it slipping for the two weeks previous, and had even joined in the phone bank efforts for Remain on the day before, and stepped up to chair the last minute Remain Rally with a woefully low turnout at St Georges with Lord Paddy Ashdown, MP Thangam Debbonaire and MEP Molly Scott Cato. Preaching to a handful of the converted (there can’t have been more than 50 people in that room) and I knew then that I’d showed up to the wrong battleground. The business event at Colston Hall was better, with the charming and ever-defiant Don Cameron of Cameron Balloons, brexiting because of EU’s unsafe safety regulations on his products, and with UK Airbus CEO Paul Khan talking about the risk to jobs unless we Remained. But it wasn’t business that was the issue. Our failure to help our voiceless and disaffected millions was.
All that was done. And I woke up feeling like I’d lost something. Tears found me after the school run in the carpark at work, and I spent five minutes sat in our car weeping uncontrollably, when I realised what it was. The day before, I was a proud British Asian, a Member of the British Empire, someone who belonged and was invested. But now, I was a second generation immigrant, who, when told to “go back to where I come from”, could only get as far as Watford where I was born.
I feared for my family, our two boys who were the wrong shade of white to be able to fit in in what was now looking like a country heading into far-right territory. Looking at them, you would not be able to say “at least they’re half English” to those who would seek to cleanse their neighbourhoods of human beings who originated from the Outside.
My identity shattered, I found myself adjusting my behaviour. Whilst normally, letting total strangers in front in traffic was never a big deal (repeat after me “the traffic must FLOW!”), I began to do so whilst simultaneously leaning forward so they could see my brown skin and black hair, knowing that in that moment I represented all immigrants now and that we needed to show that we were GOOD immigrants. In my head I quipped; I called it mindful kindness. Kindfulness.
I left it simmering for a while, allowing it to surface when I was mindful of opportunities to show kindness and kept wondering if a simple concept could start to recreate community where our interconnectedness had decayed (or where it had never existed before). After all we have so many in our city alone who go above and beyond the call of duty for their neighbours and communities, we would not be starting from nothing. Isolated kindness seemed a bit hit-and-miss for me. I wanted and needed a way for it to add up to a whole lot more. A sustained connection between our different cultures based on respect and understanding.
Kalpna Woolf, a dear friend who has sought connection of Bristol’s 91 languages through sharing food with 91ways, is definitely onto something. Kindfulness cannot be just about kindness by immigrants to those who would misunderstand or fear them. It must also be about sustained connectedness. A relationship that remains after the immediate ember of the kind act has died.
It is tempting to think that this boils down to funded activity in order to be sustained. But we forget that things that last, last because of ongoing needs that must be met.
So we must look to our communities based on culture, religion, ward, and ask them to do one thing: identify all the needs of the community, and pick ONE thing they can do together to fulfill ONE need, and ONE thing they can do to fulfill that need for a community that is not theirs.
Have you read about circular economies? They fascinate me. The whole concept is defined by this:
“A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.”
Can we define circular communities as a network of diverse interconnected communities that provide each other with what they all collectively need to improve the quality of their lives? Could we redefine a sustainable city as one with a network of circular communities?
Thinking this through, all communities face similar challenges, but the ones that suffer the most are those that for some reason haven’t been able to integrate into a larger population. Language barriers, cultural restrictions, access to education, attitudes towards community members with disabilities all add into the common challenges (poverty, education, childcare, affordable housing and transport – or the lack of it)…
A great example of kindfulness is the Bristol Feed the Homeless Network, which has amongst its founders a Muslim leader in Easton, but is an effort that reaches across cultural divides with a multicultural team. They saw a societal need that was not being sufficiently addressed, and took responsibility for sorting it out.
When Eastern European families living on the same street in Knowle West had their homes attacked three times in six weeks, within three days of the final attack a Peace Picnic rallied and brought community members together to make a stand, and show that the attacks were not condoned by the community. So far, I’m told, there have been no further attacks.
Our business community are rallying around to combat modern slavery in all it’s forms (through our own tiscreport.org), and could do so much more if other civic needs were defined more precisely (take a look at neighbourly). Those happy people at the Happy City Initiative are also giving a lot of thought to this, in full knowledge that giving back to the community is one of the necessary pillars of happiness.
We have groups who focus on the most vulnerable members of our community, but we must also nurture the relationships between our culturally diverse communities in the same way.
I’m not done thinking about this, and I feel that with your thoughts added to mine, we will be able to come up with something far more practical. For now, let’s create communities where we currently have none. A reason to communicate regularly, find and connect those who are literally dying of loneliness and isolation and show them that we need them too. Perhaps they are our way of connecting with other communities too?
As someone who doesn’t know anyone in my immediate neighbourhood beyond my next door neighbours I guess I ought to start by taking my own advice :).
Definition of Kindfulness 1.1: mindful and connected acts of kindness to forge unbreakable caring communities.