ASSESSMENT OF THE COMPASSION PROJECT: A case for hope & human-kindness from the town that beat loneliness

    – Julian Abel and Lindsay Clarke  Aster/ Oxford Publishing Group (2020)

    All the lonely people. Where do they all belong?” – Beatles (Eleanor Rigby)

    The authors write clearly and convincingly. I enjoyed how they conveyed the extent and depth of fatigue, lethargy, dysphoria, loneliness and elimination of positive motivation in the modern world. (Isolation and loneliness is one of the existential givens of life that form part of pioneering psychiatrist Irvin Yalom’s framework). They show how this situation is exacerbated by pandemic regulations that fail to take account of short-term or longer-term psychosocial consequences. “It’s important that people stay as emotionally close to one another as physical separation allows”. (This blind spot, even in a country that recently appointed a ministerial loneliness portfolio!)

    The practical, down-to-earth compassion-led approach and processes adopted by the town of Frome in Somerset that places relationships at the heart of community, is an inspiring beacon for our times. Every town, community, library, council, general practitioner, hospital, hospice, school should have and should use this book to the full as a contributor, if not panacea, to the challenge of re-awakening for the common good the basic human characteristic of compassion. (Although UK – specific, much of their concept and principles are transplantable).

    The Compassion Project mirrors and goes beyond what we have learned from initiatives such as those taken by Buurtzorg (neighbourhood care) in the Netherlands in the 1980s – which was a total shift from top-down, controlled, scheduling and monitoring of ‘efficiency’ and ‘cost-effectiveness’ to a distributed, self-managing, relationship-based system of caring proactively, led by a transcendent purpose, including the development of preventative care – which has proved to be more effective in every way. (Laloux, F. 2014).  The Compassion Project aims not only at primary health care, but at a much bigger and more widespread community welfare. The Frome experience, learning and processes are nicely set out in detail. In particular, the work done by ready, willing and able “health connectors”, “community connectors” and the availability of “talking cafes” that act as organic spreaders of compassion-led activity, deserve the highest praise.

    May I venture to suggest that the laudable Frome initiative could benefit from these ‘tweaks’:

    • That non-violent civil disobedience be only considered as actions to protest the environmental and democratic sicknesses that beset us, after serious attempts are made at bridging activities (for example the use of story to engage and build bridges rather than walls between people, irrespective of the issues that are being addressed). This is because any ‘Non-violent civil disobedience’ that results in any form of disruption is increasingly generally viewed as passive-violence. 
    • Although I understand the logic that leads to advocating a top-down and bottom-up approach that then results in the formation of a body to devise strategies, policies, organisation and reporting structure to steer implementation – this does carry the inherent danger in a predominantly ‘left-brain’ society of being overdone to the detriment of natural, organic community and compassion development. Balance is required of course, but we should take pains to err on the side of spontaneous, citizen-triggered, organic development. And take pains to prevent inadvertently (although well-intended) foisting any ‘higher authority’ solutions on communities.  
    • Consider offering training to participants in compassion-led communities that equips them to apply systemic-knowing principles to advance non-dualistic thinking (encouraging ‘and/both’ instead of the ‘either/or’ that we are all so prone to). To the extent that such maturity begets more inclusivity of people, worldviews and ideas, such an offer and provision may also be conceived of as an act of compassion on its own. (Rajagopalan, R. 2020)

    An adoption of the value and a prevailing focus on compassion is a stepping-stone to the practice of the virtue of love in society. The Compassion Project is to be admired and I hope that it is emulated as far and wide as possible.

    Laloux, Frederic (2014) Reinventing Organisations Nelson Parker, Belgium

    Rajagopalan, Raghav (2020) Immersive Systemic Knowing: Advancing Systems Thinking Beyond Rational Analysis Springer

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