Kindfulness: from a concept to a movement?

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, 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.




4 Replies to “Kindfulness: from a concept to a movement?”

  1. I found your blog by accident and I’m so glad I did. You write with intelligence, with clarity, with kindness and compassion and in an increasingly angry and inflammatory climate, where free speech all too often turns to hate, where ‘ fake news’ and ‘post truth’ create doubt, where nothing is real, unless it’s not fake ( or is it fake? All this smoke and mirroring is starting to confuse ) anyway, getting back to the point, where everything is as clear as mud and statistics are frequently thrown in to the mix to claim the mud is clear (creating fear and disenchantment) clarity, intelligence and kindness are a much needed oases for contemplation and reflection.

    You wrote:

    “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.”

    and it really touched a nerve. I too woke up after the referendum and cried. My children came home from school asking me what would happen if I got deported? Where would they live? It broke my heart.

    I have 4 children, all born in the UK, I was born outside of the UK and hold an EU passport. Having lived here since 1976, I never felt the need to naturalise. I liked my EU passport. My nationality was a link to my childhood, nostalgic and made me feel ‘unique’. I say this because even though I have often joked that I am so mixed, I make a mongrel look pedigree, I love the UK. I love living here and am about as honorary British as one can get and always saw myself as living and working here into my dotage. Now I’m not so sure.

    What scares me is the hate. The anger. The deliberate obscuring of fact to suit a narrative that is becoming ( to my mind) more and more hostile and it really scares me. My children are coming home with ‘ alt right’ vocabulary, my daughter worries Trump will blow up the world. She is still a child. I hear talk disparaging immigrants all the time and when I point out that I too am an immigrant, they look at me and say ” Not YOU, you’re one of us”. Others in my situation say the same. The climate is changing and their is no denying it. When becoming ” One of us” involves abuse, badgering, trolling, inciting. Where banter is becoming ever more vicious in its application, where abusers claim victimhood justifying their abuse. It has all turned upside down . I am starting to wonder if it is a good thing to be “one of us ” and that really scares me ….

    1. Thank you for finding me and adding your thoughts. I know I’m not the only one struggling with this and I ache, like you, to have meaningful debate, something REAL to build upon now the illusions of our foundations have vanished. Our societies have their own ids. I’m starting to think that as we as a society become self aware we have to face some hard truths. We can’t expect politicians to fix this for us. It cuts so much deeper, don’t you think? We need to start from the ground up. By joining hands wherever we find them reaching out. And taking the time to understand each other. It’s not a quick fix. Society should be defined and measured by contribution not nationality. Thank you for joining hands with me.

      1. I could not agree more. If we all expect others to make the changes but we ourselves don’t participate, how can we be part of the change? It’s one thing to be lazy over emptying the dishwasher but a totally different thing to be lazy over taking responsibility, owning it and becoming part of the solution. Complaint and despair at the direction society is going is just empty noise without involvement!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *