Hearts and minds in public policy

Kindness coverThe importance of restoring regard for kindness alongside hard-headed analysis in public policy deliberations is highlighted in the new Carnegie UK Trust report Kindness, emotions and human relationships: The blind spot in public policy.

The report argues “that the great public policy challenges of our time demand an approach that is more centred on relationships; and, with technology and artificial intelligence transforming the way we do things, it is imperative that we focus equally on our emotional intelligence“.  (https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/project/kinder-communities/)

Public accountability perspectives tend to require policy analysts to take a strongly econometric approach to policy development and review, and this can go too far in de-humanising those involved in either the identified need or the required system response.  Worries about being too ‘soft” or allowing people to take advantage of service offerings, also lead to a systemic resolve to be firm in setting boundaries and controls.

Nagesh Belludi’s 2017 blog post about balancing kindness with strength also addresses this polarised view by reference to Stefan Einhorn‘s The Art of Being Kind (2006), which argues that being a ‘good person’ is the key to a happier and fulfilled life, but that we need to distinguish ‘true’ kindness from ‘false’ kindness.

Belludi draws attention to Einhorn’s identification of three forms of false kindness:

  • Manipulative kindness where deceitful kindness masquerades as goodness. This superficial kindness is driven by some ulterior motive—to shrewdly obtain something, rather than to be genuinely helpful.
  • Stupid kindness that lacks appropriateness—trying to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, for instance.
  • Weak kindness is thinking that being kind sometimes means yielding and being a doormat to others’ demands.

In urging consideration of kindness when developing public policy, the Carnegie UK Trust report is not advocating for replacement of rational and evidence-based policy.  It notes however that “there are major factors that get in the way of engaging and encouraging kindness both in individuals and organisations, including real and imagined rules relating to risk; funders and policy makers valuing the formal and organisational over the informal and individual”.

Our clients, staff, and volunteers know that what we pay attention to (as opposed to what we say in our corporate publications) expresses our true priorities.  If we want our directors and management to address values whenever making ‘commercial’ decisions, and we want to restore trust in our institutions, we could do worse than pay heed to the key message in the Carnegie publication:

Kindness changes things – and action on kindness in communities must be met by a new contract, fit for the twenty-first century. This contract will recognise that we are at our best when we recognise the importance of emotions and deep human connections. It will protect and enhance the instinct for kindness, making sure that decisions, interventions, design, planning and leadership are rooted in an understanding of how we feel.”  (p.39)

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