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Networking Kindness: Joined-up Social Justice for Christian Activists who Collaborate

15 Oct 2021

Rev’d Canon Dr Ellen Loudon reflects on kindness and introduces the work of Together Liverpool.

I chair Together Liverpool, which, during the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, started to develop a Network of Kindness. The aim of this network is to connect individuals, faith groups, and charities to work in solidarity, to engage collaboratively in responding to social injustice, to share resources, and to identify gaps in provision. Together Liverpool does not claim to be inventing something new. Indeed, the theory behind our practice has emerged from Catholic Social Teaching, Common Good Thinking, and the Five Marks of Mission. But the agile working practices we have developed, and the close attention we pay to amplifying the social action that is already happening, make this network unique.

Kindness currently has cultural cache—it is now ‘cool to be kind’. Everyone is at it. You can buy pin badges from etsy (other websites also available), mugs from ASDA (other stores also available), and t-shirts from pretty much anywhere. There’s an excellent Kindness Project based in Bristol, which has featured on BBC Sounds. You can download a Random Acts of Kindness calendar for the academic year and there is also a Random Acts of Kindness day—February 17—on which you can become a #raktavist.

For us, kindness is not about being ‘nice’ (although being nice is always nice). For Together Liverpool, kindness is radical. It is an engagement in a non-transactional relationship with another person or community. It is what Yanis Varoufakis points out as the difference between goods and ‘goods’—goods are exchanged for the price people are prepared to pay for them; ‘goods’ are the kindnesses done for a bigger purpose for which no price can be fixed. For us, the kindness we exchange is ethical, sustainable, and brings about justice. It is not passive and it is constantly moving participants through the ebb and flow of relational challenges. Kindness tells its own story and amplifies the story of those who contribute to it: we all want to be part of the story of kindness and we want to share the effect it has on those who participate.

Two influences began our conversation about kindness. The first was the 2016 Carnegie UK and Joseph Rowntree Foundation research Kinder Communities: The Power of Everyday Relationships written by Zoe Ferguson. And the other was Liveable Lives: A summary of recent research on everyday help and kindness by Ilona Haslewood. This research pointed out that acts of kindness:

… are an essential—if often overlooked—part of the social, emotional and practical infrastructure of daily life. While they tap into wider, long-standing societal concerns about trust, kindness, generosity, solidarity and the common good, surprisingly little is known about how exactly they come to happen and what might help to encourage (or constrain) such supportive relationships.

The research concludes that everyday kindnesses can be promoted, but they cannot be demanded. Spontaneity is significant and continuity in kindness must be nurtured and connected in order for it to have lasting impact. This is where organisations such as Together Liverpool come in, as they:

… occupy a ‘middle layer’ between informal person-to-person help and formal service provision. They act as ‘junction boxes’ connecting diverse strands of the community and social networks through shared interests and proximity.

The networking of kindness—the connecting and relating (or re-telling) of its impact—is what helps the flow of kindness as well as maintain its durability. This is at the heart of our practice in Together Liverpool. We primarily connect the kindnesses that already exist—whether they are being undertaken by individual social leaders, charities, organisations in communities, or churches. Our role is to efficiently network, amplify, promote, and encourage kindness.

Our second inspiration came from the prophet Micah, who reminds us:

… what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

The Hebrew word for kindness in Micah 6.8 is חֶ֔סֶד (hessed) and is sometimes translated as mercy or faithfulness. But it is always prefixed by love and as such it is active rather than passive. It is a verb, a performance, a concept in motion; it is doing what it is. Sandwiched between the doing of justice and the walking in humility with God, Micah’s kindness is packed with a flow of unstoppable connection with God. The question asked: what kind of worship does God require of us? The answer given: justice, kindness, and humility. This is God’s kingdom in action.

Together Liverpool is just starting to see the impact of our network of kindness, and the boost of a National Lottery grant has helped move the project on to a new level. The project is being closely monitored and evaluated. And if any other researchers or activists are interested in knowing more about our project, would like to work with us to develop our ideas further, or want to engage in research around the social impact of kindness in communities, then please do get in touch. Ours is a network in progress and we are very much at the beginning of our work together.

Rev’d Canon Dr Ellen Loudon is Canon Chancellor of Liverpool Cathedral and Director of Social Justice for the Diocese of Liverpool. She has a PhD in Music Hall, an MA in pop music, a BA in Drama and a BA in Theology. She is the author of 12 Rules for Christian Activists: A Toolkit for Massive Change.

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