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Interview snippet with Siobhan Benita

This is a small section of the podcast episode with Siobhan Benita on A Culture of Kindness. Full episode can be heard on the A Culture of Kindness podcast.


".....Well, that's very nice of you to introduce me like that. But I'm sure lots of people haven't heard of me. Where do I start; I was a civil servant. So it was my first job straight out of university, I went into the civil service. I spent a really enjoyable, 14 years in the civil service. Lots of different jobs there, lots of different departments and got a real sense of how government works central government and local government. I spent six years in the Cabinet Office, I got a really good overview of how from the centre of how ministers and officials across government work together, what was working, and what wasn't what wasn't working well.

In 2011, the coalition government came in, and it was the first time that I felt as a civil servant, that my own personal values were being stretched for me too far, actually. Because, you know, as a civil servant, that you have to be impartial. That's what we're proud of in the UK civil service. But for the first time I was in Department of Health, when they came in, I was being asked to introduce a policy that I didn't personally agree with, but neither had it been in a manifesto. I couldn't fall back on the, 'Well, the public voted for this'.

The policy was the big reforms of the National Health Service. And at the same time, that I was being asked to help implement these reforms. Number 10. Were saying, 'We're not going to be reforming the National Health Service and there is not gonna be any big top down reforms'. And I knew that it was just not right, you know, it wasn't right at all. So that's what led me to think actually, I don't want to be here anymore a realisation that I wasn't impartial. And you have to be impartial to be a good civil servant."

(NB. This is an incredible interview in which Siobhan really shares openly about where we are politically and where we couldbe with political reform)

"....I think kindness for me, starts with empathy. So it starts with those day to day moments that you have interactions with other people, where there's a chance that you can try and see something from their perspective where you can try and understand maybe why they're feeling the way they're feeling or why they're acting the way they are acting. And it's funny, when I was in the civil service, somebody whom I value their opinion and I trust a lot said to me, "You should always try and seek out the person who there's a bit of friction between you and you're not quite sure why", you know, you get on with everybody. But there's always somebody who doesn't quite get on with you, and you're not quite sure why make an effort to go and speak to them and try and understand what it is you do that rubs them the wrong way kind of thing.

And I think it's that, that we all come at things with different perspectives. We're all carrying different stories, we're all on a slightly different journey. And unless we stop and try and understand where people are coming from, I think we are constantly making the wrong responses. We're constantly reacting in a slightly different way. And actually, if we could just shift that a little bit. We could understand each other more. We could have more effective conversations. We could have better policy outcomes when you apply that to the policy sphere. So I think it's about taking those. It's just about pausing for a bit. I think pausing for a moment, and trying to think why is this person feeling this way? Why are they coming at this from this perspective, and we're so far from that in the political arena at the moment, we are so the opposite of that we're so quick to respond. It's all knee jerk. It's all black and white. There's no nuance. And that's why I think we've gotten the state that we've got."

"..... so I look at moments of kindness that have taken off in the country. So you look at Captain Tom and his walk. And you look at Marcus Rushford, and the brilliant campaign that he had for free school meals and now the book club for children. But even during the start of COVID, there were mutual aid groups that sprung up and all the neighbourhood groups and everything. And to me, that just shows actually, the vast majority of people are inherently compassionate, and they want to help the communities, the people around them, politics should facilitate that. Politics should bring out that inherent kindness in all of us. And how powerful would that be? If that's what politics strove to achieve?

...And actually, what you've just described is the politics that does the very opposite of that, what our politics at the moment, the narrative, the language, the division, it's all telling people actually, don't worry about your neighbours, because, you know, they're trying to get things off you, you know, those foreigners over there. They're trying to make your lives worse, those refugees, they're going to come and they're going to make this country worse and don't trust that organisation. They're elitist. Don't trust any of those people. And it all becomes then about individuals and about selfishness, and about fear of all those other people.

And our politics, populist politics at the moment is exploiting that fear.

Whereas, how wonderful could be if it did the opposite, if it actually facilitated that other vision of the world in which we are all helping each other, and we are all actually at heart, social compassionate human beings who want to see everybody thrive, because when everybody thrives, we all thrive. And that's the kind of politics that I yearn for.

I actually believe it would be quite simple to achieve that, because we've seen how simple it can be when somebody catches the public mood, that kindness just flows out, we see it every year, we see it with children in need, we see it with Red Nose Day, we see it every year. And it just needs the facilitation and the infrastructure for it to come out. And for some reason, our politics goes down the opposite route, and it doesn't do that.


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