Thanh Sinden, Strategic Development Manager, Culture Coventry Trust
Hello. I did have a slide, but it’s not here. So, harnessing the kindness economy. How can we help to build a more kind and compassionate world? Museums hold a high level of public trust, and it’s one of the few places left that people go to find truths.
A research piece, conducted by [Think Britain Thinks], commissioned by the Museums Association in the UK, looked into public’s attitudes towards museums, and what they think are museums core purposes. The core purposes, that were challenged in this study, were around promoting social justice, and human rights.
It was felt that, museums should remain neutral, and present facts for people to make their own judgements. The role of museums is very much seen as having a moral standpoint, as opposed to a political standpoint. However, what if remaining neutral means, other stories don’t get told? If museums enjoy high levels of public trust, then the role that museums play in modelling behaviour is powerful. How can asking for more kindness ever be wrong?
The report I reference, was carried out in 2013. Has public attitude changed? How might this change in the future, with a globally connected population? What do millennials think? What might Generation Z think? What kind of relationships do museums, and museum staff, what with their visitors? Is it one based on institutional power, authority grounded in specialist knowledge, and doing this for and to people? Or, is it a human centred approach, rooted in generosity and equality?
Is kindness kind, when the other person doesn’t have free choice? World Kindness Day is on the 13th November. Kindness UK, or the UK’s Kindness Movement, is an independent, not-for-profit organisation, whose goal is about making kindness a greater part of everyone’s daily lives, and increasing awareness of the positive benefits of kindness, to health, wellbeing, and overall balance of society. They research around health benefits of being kind, the link between kindness and civility, fostering community and belonging.
Another organisation, People United, is a charity that explores how the arts and creativity can grow kindness, empathy, and a sense of common humanity. They work with artists, academics, and activists, to explore the potential of arts in making a difference in the world. And, the published report, around arts and kindness, how the arts can be a super conductor for growing a kinder society through creating a kindness model, that’s based around engaging people’s emotions, building connections, share learning, and expire core human values.
What is the museum’s place in harnessing the kindness economy? And, how does this investment in kindness bring back returns? Kindness produces positive social connections. A kind organisation, which engages and listens to their staff, and their visitors, develops trust and emotional attachment.
Business solvers, an employee’s benefit company, found that 33% of employees would change to a more empathetic employer for equal pay, and 20% would change for less pay. Museums must be kind, because it’s not the salary that attracts us. There is a lot of unkindness and injustice in the world. Working in museums we are privileged, though not in pay, we enjoy freedom to express ourselves through creativity in the stories we want to tell.
Recognising the privilege, we have in sharing our space, with people who have less space, less power, to tell their stories is kindness. Because, kind ness is concern for others, and it’s about their needs, we should welcome the subversive voice. Plato observed, ‘Kindness is more than deeds, it is an attitude, an expression, a look, a touch, it’s anything that lifts another person.’
Living in an increasingly politically divided world, as public spaces we try to remain neutral, and not be seen to represent any political viewpoint. Kindness isn’t political, or shouldn’t be, kindness is universal. What we should show, and what we should celebrate, are acts of kindness, this what doesn’t divide us. Seeing acts of kindness, grows kindness, it’s a positive feedback loop.
And so, there are three ways museums can harness and delivery kindness. One, to welcome and include alternative narratives, to the story we tell though our museum, and better represent people’s stories, who are not in our museum. This fosters a sense of worthiness, that they are cared for and belong. This goes back to the question of, what type of relationship do we want to foster with our visitors. One that grows a deeper, longer connection, the other transactional and transient.
Two, recognise our power and privilege, and use this to further the cause of equality, by building empathy, and creating spaces where we can all connect with one another. Three, embed kindness throughout our museum. Being a kindness museum, is beyond showing an exhibition, it’s an attitude, it’s lifting another, it can be done through digital and physical.
So, let’s come together and talk about what a kindness museum looks and feels like. How can asking for more kindness every be wrong?
Thank you for listening.