Matt Hawkins-Including Compassion in Politics

In this blog, Matt Hawkins, Co-Founder of Compassion in Politics, discusses how to create political systems that are founded on compassion and love for all people.

I sat down with Matt Hawkins, co-founder of the UK organization Compassion in Politics, to discuss how to create political systems that are founded on the values of compassion and love. They believe all election campaigns should be contested with respect, honesty, and decency. They also work on including equity and inclusion to the political arena. For more information on their organization check out:

Check out my interview with Matt to explore how compassionate leadership can create systems that are better for all!

Gissele: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the Love and Compassion podcast. Our guest today is Co-Director of compassionate politics. The UK based think tank working to put compassion, cooperation and inclusion at the heart of politics. He was previously a part of the Nobel peace prize winning team at the international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons which secured a ban on nuclear weapons in the United nations. And he managed the campaign to extend civil partnerships to mixed sex couples in the UK. Please welcome Matt Hawkins.

Hi Matt.

Matt: [00:00:34] Hi Gissele, thank you so much for having me on, it’s brilliant to be part of this podcast.

Gissele: [00:00:39] It’s a real pleasure for me. Thank you. I’ve been following you guys on Facebook for a little while now and I’m so happy to see that there’s something like your organization out there. I was wondering if you could share a little bit about how you got compassion and politics started

Matt: [00:00:54] Sure. So My co-founder and I founded Compassion in Politics with Jennifer nickel. Jennifer previously was at the time head of home affairs at ITN which is a news portal here in the UK. She had been an author, she’d been a barrister but basically we had come together in, let’s call it campaigning mainly environmental campaigning here in the UK. We’ve known each other for about eight or nine years And our shared experience working for campaigns was that actually there wasn’t a campaign that existed that was purely about putting a value system or trying to improve or reform the values about its core system here in the UK. And that is what led us to set up Compassion in Politics, which launched about two years ago. And we now have the support here in the UK of Around 50 parliamentarians from six different parties. We have launched a range different campaigns which I won’t go on to talk about. But as I say the main purpose really was that we wanted to try and reinstate some core values at the heart spot of politics.

Like what makes people out there want to live caring lifestyle? Living compassionately, kindly to their neighbors, their friends, their family. Politics has just drifted so far from that. It was embroiled in corruption of course, but also was just very nasty and very toxic. It wasn’t what we felt was reflective of the essential values of humanity and that was really what led us to do it. But also specifically compassion because there is a whole field now of psychological research around the power of compassion and self-compassion and compassion for others and the whole regime of research and how you can create institutions which encourage compassion. So we wanted to build on that and apply it to the political arena.

Gissele: [00:03:06] Thank you. It’s so needed. In your briefing you talk about how our society is currently based on an incorrect perception of human nature. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about that concept?

Matt: [00:03:19] Yeah so I mean I think it’s it’s similar for Canada and America as it is in the UK. Since the 80’s there’s been a very strong emphasis on the idea of competition and greed and selfishness all being good things and also actually natural and innate things that we would have ways that we want to live our lives. That’s because of an economic system which is built on those values. Now it’s not to say we’re not trying to say that you know people can’t be greedy or selfish at times, but it’s such a one part one view of our nature as humans. There’s this whole other space of compassion, empathy, sympathy, kindness and caring that the current model of our politics and the model of our economics completely excludes one very obvious example which is often given. Is how DDP Doesn’t include housework and doesn’t include caring for your children and doesn’t include your neighbors.

It’s only measuring those aspects which is already set up as the ideal for an economy that’s in competition and created out of selfishness. So our aim was really to come in and say well actually if you build institutions and structures and theories that emphasize other aspects of human nature you will then see those aspects encouraged throughout society and a lot of this research that I was just talking about around compassion is based on actually we are innately compassionate and caring. It’s in our nature, but if you build systems which in part fear, insecurity, greed, competition, you tend to dampen down that sense of compassion. You do encourage those sort of aspects. So if we can get right back down to the roots of what our politics is about, what it sets out to do, what it’s based on. We believe we can change society.

Gissele: [00:05:30] What you said is so powerful I’m a big believer of where you place your attention is where you place your energy. And we spend so much of our time fighting against something. You know anti-crime, anti this, anti that instead of focusing on the things we want to do. We want to be more inclusive. We want to be more loving. We want to be more compassionate. So I think that’s what you said was really powerful.

So you mentioned aspects of capitalism and the concept of greed. And I think that’s one of the biggest challenges that I’ve seen in our government. It’s too founded on fear and lack, and the focus is there’s never “enough” resources and so I was just wondering what you thought how fear and this concept of lack prevents people from acting compassionately within the political system?

Matt: [00:06:15] I think it makes it very difficult for them to do so. And the study is on this issue is that there’s mixed results. I mean it it’s it’s not to say that people who lack did not act compassionately that’s definitely not because we know that some of the poorest people in some communities can often be the most caring for those around them. But what it does show is, and the research is pretty un-equivocal on this. Is that the wealthier you become, the less giving you also become. So if you have a system which is built on the idea that you should fight and scrap to be the wealthiest to have the largest house, the largest garden and most private possessions. You are creating a system which naturally encourages and inculcates people into being more greedy and more selfish. More equal societies tend to be happier, they have lower rates of depression, suicide, self-harm. And that is because you are not separated from one another. You feel a part of the community. You’re not constantly comparing yourself to others and trying to be better than them. None of this is people’s fault. It’s it’s a system which has created, possibly on some good grounds, but a system which is completely now out of control and very damaging to our well-being and to our lifestyles. So we’ve got to get back to a situation where the well-being of all is the main goal and that we acknowledge where people are suffering and we step up and intervene offer support to help them.

Gissele: [00:07:59] Yeah absolutely. It’s so interesting that these systems are made up by people.

Matt: [00:08:06] Exactly, So they could be fixed by people.

Gissele: [00:08:08] Exactly, And that’s why I see how important your work is and how important it is to actually try to impact the people that are making this decisions. You talked about greed and you know once having a conversation with someone and they said to me you know greed is just the hoarding of money it made me think it made me shift my perspective on it in the sense that even like the wealthiest people are lacking. Because why would you need to accumulate so much wealth at the expense of others? There must be an insecurity about your own financial situation that you need to accumulate and continue to accumulate. And I’m thinking about like the larger like the one percenters like where the people actually exploit their employees in order to continue to line their pockets. And so I think comes from a place of lack and it allowed me to be more compassionate for sure for people.

Matt: [00:09:01] It’s hard to be and I think it doesn’t come naturally to be compassionate in that situation but it is useful to try and understand what has driven them to be like that. Once we have that understanding we can start to change things. We can take that step and we can really appreciate the problems that led us to where we are now.

Gissele: [00:09:22] That kind of leads me to my next question on judgments. I find that we make a lot of judgments about people that are homeless that don’t have enough. But we don’t really judge people that are very very successful we tend to aspire to be that I was wondering how you thought judgments negatively impact us and prevent us from really creating a truly compassionate world?

Matt: [00:09:42] Yes it certainly does. I think, I think a number of things. First of all judgment sits very squarely at the center of the current economic and political system we have as you say. The state over the last 30 or 40 years has done a remarkably effective job of basically taking away the burden and the responsibility for looking out for people and placing it on individuals, shoppers, through this narrative of individual responsibility, competition, dog eat dog, pull your socks up, you know.

We know the strivers and skivers is common across most of the Western world. And so that naturally encourages people look at others who might be suffering or struggling and under increasingly vulnerable circumstances and not offer a helping hand, and not see them as actually just parts of common humanity. Because we’re actually blaming them for the situation that they are in. I think there is also a problem of judgment if we then look at certain political movements. I think that the political parties in particular can be often very judgmental places to be in. And I my experience of operating in campaigns has been that. Parties often fight themselves more than they combat or fight the issues that they’re meant to be working on. A lot of that’s understandable. You’ve got a group of people with high ideals that want to change the world, they’re frustrated. But because perhaps they’re not, once you get down into the nitty gritty and you’re fighting every day on particular issues you lose sight of actually again what is common between you, the cause that you’re all fighting. So one of the things that Compassion in Politics here in the UK is time to really do is get some cross-party working. On issues where there is common cause. And I think there are far more of those than people will allow. If we’re going to accept that we’re going to continue to have political parties to just encourage respectful debate. I mean, here in the UK of course we had Brexit referendum in 2016 and we saw after that just, growing, growing divisions and toxicity and very violent language and actually a lot of physical threats. And the MP’S, mainly female MP’S, a large number of female MPS stepped down before our most recent election because they were scared. I mean that’s not a, that’s not a functioning democracy. And so we also want to encourage Parliamentarians not to sit so easily in judgment of one another. And just respectfully debate the issues understand that both sides are coming at this wanting to make the world a better place or at least assuming that that is the position. And then trying to work out an effective and constructive way to move forward because the language that you see in politics and sets the example for the rest of society and certainly I’m not up to speed on cultural politics in Canada but certainly here we’ve had a very divisive few years and it escalated right to the streets because it’s so rapid increases hate crime after the Brexit referendum or a key points during the debate thereafter. And you could very clearly map how what was going on in politics was infecting society as well So we’ve got to move on and be much more respectful in common cause and our approach.

Gissele: [00:13:24] Absolutely. You see the rippling effects for sure. I was wondering as you were speaking whether you thought this the approach of going after one another in a very non respectful way is a bit of a distraction tactic, in not having to answer questions. Cause I always find that in these political debates nobody really answers the question. It’s more of a slight of hand conversation. You know a way of answering the question so that they don’t really have to get to the root of the issues or have a truthful discussion. I was just wondering what your thoughts on this was

Matt: [00:13:57] that is probably true. I think that some of that actually is is the responsibility of the media. I think this 24-7 media that we live in, which constantly needs news about what politicians are doing. It’s very it’s it’s incredibly rapid. And I think that makes it very difficult to pause and have those reflective conversations that actually are essential policy making. So it’s probably not a surprise that sometimes politicians will reach out and simply fling back insults one another or blame other people because there just isn’t the time for a proper detail. But I also think there’s something about politics which rewards those more likely to resort to that sort of slinging effect I mean if you think about it here in the UK so we have the debating chamber where the two sides who sit opposite each other. And it’s famed for this incredibly hostile hopped atmosphere where you’ve got to be witty and all of your responses and your put downs then when it comes to voting you’re basically bullied into voting for party by the system that we have and in and outside of parliament we essentially have a two Party system it’s meant to be multiparty but really it’s quite like America And that it’s two parties normally who can win the election And so there all the differences and all the issues and politics can boil down to very simple who’s better on this table or conservative labor or conservative two horse race who’s ahead in the polls And that just creates this atmosphere and where she does It’s not about the issues anymore. Those have long been forgotten It’s just about these personalities. Who’s leading the party and the only kind of people that can survive in that… not all of them. Absolutely not. We have fantastic politicians who do manage to maintain a connection with their values but it’s very difficult for them to do that. It’s hard to sustain yourself in a system like that without becoming or adopting sentence lightening narcissistic tendencies because you’re just constantly fighting each other constantly having insults thrown at you. You have been tried to be caught out by the opposition and it’s just it’s a disaster for policy makers.

Gissele: [00:16:19] Absolutely. You know I always thought that we have the political party which reflects kind of where people are at our level of consciousness. Right? And so we tend to be so divisive. We judge one another. And to pit ourselves against one another in our daily lives. And so I think the current political system that we have is a reflection of ourselves.

Matt: [00:16:40] I think there is an element of that but I mean it’s hard to sort of to see where the causation begins and the effect begins or ends. I think that we’ve seen quite clearly how the political and economic standpoint has infected the rest of society And then there’s a sort of feedback mechanism where obviously people do feel the need to elect people whom they feel represent their values but it can sort of serve as a feedback loop that reinforces those values.

So our job compassionate politics is to work with the politicians that have taken that step back and realized that the system isn’t working. It isn’t working for the pocket. And to make the interventions that we feel are necessary to try and start to create a new idea and a new narrative about how politics can be done.

Gissele: [00:17:51] I know that Dr. Paul Gilbert and Dr. Kristin Neff are big supporters of your work. I was just wondering what lessons you’ve learned from them about compassion in the political system.

Matt: [00:18:07] So many, where to begin on that one. They’ve both they’ve both been huge influences. I think first of all Paul, in particular, has given us an understanding of what we’ve got here. How our evolutionary brains can be very easily led to be greedy and selfish but that we can also be led to be kind, caring, compassionate, and he has helped us understand how. That the inclination to go towards creating a system which primed us and emphasized greed and selfishness has drained compassion from the system. They have also helped us to understand how powerful compassion can be. Kristin Neff often talks about the transformation that can happen from society from self-compassion actually especially obviously that’s the area of her research. So she described how if feel more compassionate to yourself and you tend to adopt a more compassionate outlook. You know it’s almost there’s a lot of talk at the moment about infectious diseases. Well compassion can be one of those! If you are more compassionate to just one or two people around you and you help them to feel better about themselves and about the world, then compassion tends to spread quite rapidly so they have both helped us understand how compassionate interventions really can change the way society feels. The places it puts its priorities and therefore habit can be a reforming mechanism in politics as well. And through their work we’ve been then led on to see other areas of research where say, mindfulness has played a significant role in helping individuals cope while working. It has helped us understand how compassion training has helped people have more empathy for others. And you can just start to see it all sort of areas to fall into place. And you can think, well if we can do that in a political setting and we’re talking here about other people making decisions about the way the country is run, just imagine the changes that can start to happen.

Gissele: [00:20:33] Definitely. We can see the possibility of changing our world. Do you think you would ever see politicians practicing self-compassion

Matt: [00:20:40] I think it’s possible. Yeah. I think it is possible. So in the UK, we have these things called all party parliamentary groups which are essentially they’re cross-party. They, they’re quite informal. They’re not part of the official mechanism of government but they can be very popular because they’re spaces where politicians can come together on issues or interests that they share and work across party sort of behind the glaze of the media who probably would rather see them competing with one another and here we have an all party group for mindfulness and that group has helped over 200 parliamentarians from both our two houses on send Lords to mindfulness training. I think if you’d said to me five or six years ago before mindfulness became a really popular idea, I would have thought it very unlikely that we could have such a situation that’s now happened. And we are working with that group to the next step which is to encourage those groups of politicians to undergo compassion training. And there is real interest in it partly because I think the once you start working with politicians who are new to the system, they want to find a way that they can navigate a very chaotic and competitive system. But also for any politician, at any stage, who feels that the system is sometimes bullying their values and their ideals out of them. This is a world that they can find where they can reconnect with those through compassion training. And find ways that both through the way they work and the policies that their work towards can have based on those values.

Gissele: [00:22:30] That’s really great! You mentioned the media again. I was just wondering why you think they are so invested in conflict? Why do you think they’re so invested in propagating negative news?

Matt: [00:22:45] Yeah I mean I think it’s sells. It sadly that’s I mean that’s another thing that we’ve learned from psychology is that our brains are wired to focus more on the negative than on the positive. That’s partly an evolutionary thing which means that we’re constantly trying to learn from incidents and how not to do them again. Where was the positive sort of need doesn’t need that reinforcement so much. But that also means that it sells and intrigues us. But again it’s also part of a wider thing in our politics where that’s just what is expected. It’s expected that the opposition will be hurling insults and that we will be hurling insults and that there’s got to be this massive dividing line between political parties and all issues that are going to find areas of discord and disharmony. And of course, you know, healthy debate is important and it it improves our understanding of the issues and the decisions being made. But if it’s not done in a respectful manner then actually it’s of huge disservice to the society and to the politicians who are part of our political system

Gissele: [00:23:56] And that is one of the fundamental key aspects of why your work is so important. You’re shifting the expectations. Challenging the way we’ve always done it. Imagining we can do something greater, something better in politics.

Matt: [00:24:11] I mean the first strategic goal we really had was to get compassion placed as a legitimate political driver because there been theoretical works and essays published around the role that compassion can play and philosophers and debate, but it wasn’t really part of the political moment. It was much more about politics is a dirty game. If you are going to get involved in it you have got to expect that.

Everyone’s human but society doesn’t always run that way. So why should politics, which is made by humans, and can be reformed by them, why should it be any different?

Gissele: [00:24:58] And I completely agree with your premise. I do believe that all people are fundamentally compassionate but sometimes the systems that we create make it more difficult to practice. One of the challenges I see in Canadian politics is that even though these people, the people creating policies are compassionate people, sometimes the policies are made by really privileged people that have never used the systems that they’re designing. And so these policies may look good on paper but when you actually place those policies into practice, they really has a huge negative impact on the most marginalized people. So it was wondering if you could share your experience in the UK around privilege and compassion.

Matt: [00:25:35] Yes I think that was a really really good point. I think it’s harder to be compassionate when you don’t have an understanding of people’s lives. Paul Gilbert often describes how Compassion requires wisdom. He always gives this example of if you see someone who is drowning in a river and you dive in to try and save them but you actually can’t swim then there’s not much point in in acting. Compassion requires both a desire and a motivation to understand people and to help them. But you also need the skills to be able to do that I think part of it involves understanding the situation that other people are living through. So part of our work has been to sort also summarize everything in an attempt to close the gap between politicians and the public. So creating Constituency Boards in the UK which would basically be the collection of members of constituencies probably around 12% representing different backgrounds and different political views who would come together every three months and meet with the MP. In a mediated setting, individuals come together to discuss issues coming up for them, issues that are coming up for their friends. That does try and help create that space where an MP and constituents are just talking about what’s going on. And I mean it’s a small intervention but it’s one example of what we see is a desperate need to help politicians understanding of what’s going on. And again this isn’t all of all politicians. Some of them, you know, are absolutely embedded in their community and fully know and fully have that experience. But it’s quite quick for, you know, you can imagine how quickly they can shut off from what’s going on on the ground. So that is absolutely fundamental to our work and as you say to compassion.

Gissele: [00:28:02] And that makes sense in the sense that not only are you enabling the politicians to get a real on the ground feel for what’s happening but also I would see it generating public interest. I think our voting rates are lower because people are really aren’t that interested in politics. There’s loss of trust in the government. There’s loss of faith that anything will change. And I think this will do the dual job of ensuring that the politicians are making policies that reflect what people really need and that the people are engaged in shaping the policies.

Matt: [00:28:34] Yes absolutely. In the UK, we have this huge problem of people feeling like politics doesn’t represent them. They look at the style of debate and politics and a lot of the time they don’t trust politicians. As people who work in politics, we try to rebuild that trust and rebuild the bridge between politicians and the people that they are meant to represent. But also not just to do that in a state political institution but also to try and devolve more arm parties so that people can more directly get involved in politics. And that also will bridge the divide between politicians and the people that represent the public become more a part of politics.

Gissele: [00:29:23] power is always in the people

I read something that you posted about hotels offering free rooms to domestic violence survivors and the government sort of failed to respond to that offer. Do you know like can you share a little bit what you think might have happened there

Matt: [00:29:39] Yes, I mean we don’t really. We are actually stumped ourselves, to be honest. So for your listeners this is something that we’ve been campaigning on since the start of the lockdown.

What we knew from China and France and Italy, places that had been in lock down before the UK, was that there was an increase rates of domestic abuse. And the problem obviously is that people experiencing domestic abuse don’t have anywhere else to go. So we wrote to hotels in the UK and asked them if they’re open to offering rooms to members of the public. And the response was overwhelming. Most major hotel chains came back to us and said yes we know this is the right thing to do but we do need some government support. To have the staff who work at the hotels write to the government and to not have a word of reply. And they still have not really gone far enough at all in providing actions satisfactory to domestic abuse. And why? when when the solution is very obvious and very easy and the demand and need is there. We will continue to campaign until they do the right thing.

Gissele: [00:31:01] Yeah. I wonder if it has to do with fear, right? They’re probably worried about well how much support are they going to need?

Matt: [00:31:10] Possibly. But again I mean in the offer that we’ve made to the government we’ve said that the group of charities here in the UK South or black sisters and refuge and women’s aid do are willing to step in and provide that support. So it’s not even like there’s any there’s not really any work that the government has to do. They just have to give and provide a bit of money. So whether it’s just classic political you know, slow, slow to make decisions. Or Whether it’s that they want to do it their own way but the proposal we made wasn’t radical. It was what has been done in Belgium and France. We were building on examples in Australia. We were building on examples of where it’s working.

Gissele: [00:31:52] Yeah. The hesitation is not clear. I hope they get back to you in terms of why they wouldn’t respond to such a generous offer compassion. In Canada, we’re definitely worried about the domestic violence and also about child abuse and neglect.

Matt: [00:32:13] Yes, I mean it’s yeah you’re right. It’s not just, you know, it’s it’s other it’s other psychological issues and physical and mental health issues that are going to happen because help is not accessible. And this was one area where we felt we could make an intervention where we knew that there was a solution. And so we were very disappointed. That it hasn’t happened yet. But we will continue, and hopefully if it if we can do this we’ll also provide a model for other countries who you know might be looking for solutions in the span of the virus.

Gissele: [00:32:50] Yeah. If anything this COVID situation has really highlighted just how challenging it is for marginalized people. It is really bringing the awareness because I think when people are saying “well stay in your homes”. Well, “Oh homeless people don’t have homes to go to”

Matt: [00:33:08] and for some people home is not a safe place to be at.

Gissele: [00:33:17] Yes. So true. So one of the things I loved most about your briefing is a part that where you say creating a truly compassionate political system means ensuring that no policy should adversely impact future generation. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Matt: [00:33:34] Absolutely. It’s what we’ve called for now ” the compassionate act” which is a proposal that would mean that in British policy making no future law could be introduced to either push people into a destitution or that would impact adversely on the lives of future generations. There’s kind of a whole back catalog of legislative examples that we’ve worked on to create this. And there is a specific reason why the UK needs to do this which is that whilst other countries have created such laws or have simply copied United nations guidance and recommendations on these issues, again the UK has sort of sense of British exceptionalism has decided not to do this. So in the UK we have no specific economic rights or at least the right to make a decent living or the avoidance of poverty .Where other countries who have those and it’s been brought very starkly into focus for us here by a decade of austerity in which conservative government cut welfare in particular but also funding for essential services to such an extent that inequality has risen. Poverty rate has risen. Homelessness has increased. And a lot of the extremities of that policy would not have been possible had we had our act in place. The idea really is that we want to shift the dial and shift priorities towards and thinking about children of the future in a way that is not happening you know, in politics.

Gissele: [00:35:29] Absolutely. It’s that thinking forward for our kids and not just thinking of ourselves and what our current needs are. Another thing that COVID has highlighted is the fact that potentially the capitalistic system doesn’t work. Because since the world has kind of halted, and people have looked for financial support from the governments. And so I was wondering what your thoughts on basic income or in terms of making the world a more equitable and compassionate world.

Matt: [00:36:01] We have been very supportive right from the beginning when we launched a veil of a basic income. I think for us it’s because it symbolizes compassion really. If it’s done in the right way, and built on the right values of common humanity. The fact that everyone needs a degree of security. The fact that also people don’t want to live to work all the time. They want to have space where they can be creative or they can engage in fun and play or contribute to their community. So I think now is a moment, where almost by accident, governments have been forced to introduce something akin to a basic income. And I think that coupled with the experiments that have happened in countries across the world, it means we’re much closer to the implementation of basic income. A number of nations will be rolling it out on a much larger scale.

Gissele: [00:37:03] And the research shows it works. There’s always worries about small pocket of people that are taking advantage but the research actually shows the opposite. It shows for people it’s an opportunity for them to go back to school and for them to kind of improve their lives.

Matt: [00:37:17] And I think you’re right. Those sorts of assumptions about the problems with the basic income are based on the old way of thinking about the economy. That’s an old philosophy which has been disproved on so many occasions. And as you said the experiments in a basic income show that it’s going to require a bit of courage and bravery from certain governments to really push it and go for it. But they will, I mean we’re sure, will absolutely reap benefits when they do.

Gissele: [00:37:52] Exactly. Can we talk about the compassionate leadership of Jacinda Arden. I really like her. And I know that you guys do too cause you guys put up posts of the stuff that she does in New Zealand. I was just wondering why you think her leadership is so effective.

Matt: [00:38:10] Yeah. I mean there’s sort of two questions there, isn’t there? It’s what has led her to be so effective? But then also what does she do that’s effective? I think it’s the qualities she embodies of humility, honesty, humanity, genuine concern for the well being of the people of her country. And she is brave. When the terrorist attack took place the New Zealand, so many other politicians in her position would have fallen back them on an old age narrative of fighting, “this is an insult to the way of life in New Zealand”, where you know wars have been launched over text. And what she did is in contrast to that way. She responded to that crisis with kindness, with care, with sensitivity to the needs of all communities in New Zealand. So I think she’s prepared to do things differently and she is showing other politicians in the world that actually if you do try and behave differently and move away from some of the practices that are older than you will see. You will make a big difference and the public will respond positively to that. I think there is something to be said about the New Zealand political system as well which encourages plurality. They have coalition government there and it tends to be the case that coalition governments are more stable and the sense of chaos in the politic system is reduced because people’s views are more represented in government and you are encouraging to people have to work to get policies passed. You can’t rely on a massive sort of steamrolling policies pass parliament. So there is that but obviously just in the herself there is her individual example.

Gissele: [00:40:14] Hmm I’d never heard of coalition governments

Matt: [00:40:21] I mean for New Zealand it’s it’s a labor party with the New Zealand national party. You know they’ve had an election and neither has had a strong liberal minority. And I don’t think that’s uncommon in New Zealand because they have a proportional system and that’s similar to much much of the world now.

Gissele: [00:40:54] Thank you for sharing that. So one of the comments you made about Jacinda is that she’s very brave and I do feel that compassion requires courage. And so I think that’s why she’s such an effective leader. I was wondering what your thoughts were on what Sweden had done around COVID. My understanding was that that they actually refused to shut down Sweden. What are your thoughts on what happened with Sweden?

Matt: [00:41:31] Okay. I think it’s very very interesting. And I think probably with all these things we won’t really know the success or not until a little further down the line when we can properly assess things with the benefit of hindsight. One thing I think that has been very strong about Sweden has been the honesty of their leadership, in that the have been prepared to say “you know what we’re trying things. We have your absolute best interests at heart. We can’t say for certain that this is the best strategy because no one can know that. This is what we feel is right. This is what the evidence is telling us we should do. And if you can’t trust that”…Here in the UK, in particular, every press conference seems to be exercise about press management. It’s entirely about getting your message across. The list of doing the right things and we’re reaching all these targets which we set ourselves. And that’s a very strong contrast to what’s going on in Sweden where they, as I say, they seem to put that degree of trust in the public that they can be honest with them and explain the situation like adults. And trust that the people aren’t going to throw out their arms and demand a revolution just because someone has admitted that actually within how we need to respond to COVID and the everything is a bit of an experiment.

Gissele: [00:42:57] Yeah. Well I guess time will tell.

So I I’ve been kind of trying to learn a lot about leadership and one of the best things I heard was that to be an effective leader you truly have to love people. And be compassionate, obviously. I was just wondering who you thought were some other compassionate leaders out there that we should be keeping an eye out for.

Matt: [00:43:22] I think I I often give the example Angela Merkle. Of who isn’t everyone’s politics necessarily but again I think has embodied throughout a long period of leadership and you don’t stay in power that long without being a very effective leader. She is someone who is brave when she needs to be. There was a need to provide sanctuary for refugees and Germany stepped up in a way that no other country really in Europe was prepared to. And she faced a lot of political opposition in order to do that. She is very courageous on the European level. And has been a strong leader for European reform and indeed for expanding the operations of the European Union in a way that helps nations be much more collaborative with one another. And isn’t someone who is all about flashing personality, but is actually more about you know about getting the job as the leader.

Thank you for your insights on Angela. Gissele: [00:44:44] You have a new podcast!

Matt: [00:44:46] Yes

Gissele: [00:44:47] It’s called “Beyond COVID”? So I was just wondering if you could share with the listeners a little bit about what they can expect when they listen to your podcast.

Matt: [00:44:57] So the idea of beyond COVID is that there’s a lot of talk obviously at the moment about how we respond to COVID. What it’s doing to different countries. But we felt when we set it up, there wasn’t as much or enough about “what are we learning? And what is going to be different? What do we want to be different? When we built the purpose of our podcast, is to have different people from different perspectives, different walks of life, come on the show. It’s about 20 minutes and we just talk about what did they learn from COVID in their field? So you know we’ve had Alice Roberts, who’s an Anthropologist. We’ve had a politician here who works in the house. They’ll say what they’ve learned, what they want to be different in the future, and how we can help. And it’s supposed to be sort of creating that future that is desperately needed right now.

Gissele: [00:45:50] Mmmm. Yeah. It’s your envisioning and helping create the reality you want to experience. Another question for you: what have you observed about compassion before and during COVID?

Matt: [00:46:06] I think that it’s been incredibly powerful. And that it shows that I think one of my main lessons has been that we thought at the beginning, that there’s a sort of expectation that when things get tough people naturally go into their own private sphere and will compete and fight. And yet the opposite has happened at least on on the ground level, in the minority of cases. Not pretending it’s all wonderful… that a lot has happened which has been about helping one another and community supports and volunteering and making sure your neighbors have bought food and helping vulnerable communities and that a lot of that sprung up here in the UK without government support. So we had a mutual aid society springing up across the country to the minute the lock down was announced. No intervention from the government. It does show that people are able to lead and to organize in their own spaces without being told to. People can be very effective and compassionate leaders.

Gissele: [00:47:25] Yeah. And leadership comes from anywhere. You don’t have to wait for the government to dictate things. People have stepped up and done a whole bunch of beautiful different things. People have switched their businesses to create masks and you know cleaning solutions and they’ve come together to figure out how to change. How to come together and help the most marginalized people.

Matt: [00:47:47] Yeah absolutely

Gissele: [00:47:49] so one of the I’ve been reflecting since COVID is how we can actually try to express compassion for those who need it the most, meaning probably those people that were hoarding things and you know expressing hatred. And so on I was just wondering what you think how we can start to kind of get to that point where we can actually start practicing compassion to those who are the most hurtful.

I think we just have to learn what lead people to respond in that way. A lot cases is economic insecurity, and a system that is built on lack of support for people. In these systems if people run out of food, they are going to starve unless someone comes to help them. It’s important to be kind to people who act in ways that are hurtful. we have to try to understand the behavior. We also have to build a society that supports these individuals in meaningful ways.

Thank you so much Matt for all your incredible wisdom and for the amazing work you do in Compassion in Politics. Please check out Matt’s incredible work at and support their initiatives to come to North America. If you are interested in making this happen, email us at

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