Mancunians show us how to be #usefulandkind...

What phenomenal displays of prosocial behaviour we have seen in Manchester this week and elsewhere. Generosity, bravery, compassion, giving without counting the cost, helping, healing.

These people are you. So much is being explored and written about prosocial leaders, their traits, qualities, behaviours, skills. We are all leaders. We can all rise to the need to help someone else. We can show our love, our common humanity in the small unseen gestures as much as the great strategic sweeps.

Psychologists have researched the Bystander Effect but it seems they would have been dumbfounded by the way in which so many people helped and didn't wait for others to go first. It is the job of the emergency services to go into these harrowing situations which can have huge psychological consequences for them leading to flashbacks, PTSD and compassion fatigue. In a sense this makes their actions even braver than those who just respond automatically in a prosocial way as the experienced emergency worker knows only too well what might lay ahead.

Our prosocial desire to help and listen and heal can sometimes backfire. The huge rush of counsellors to the Tsunami was well researched and it has been shown that retelling the story so soon lays the event down more in the memory, the best way to deal with it is to avoid sleep and interestingly to play Tetris or similar.

For those of us who have personal experience or understanding of the power of the Metta Meditation (May you be well, healthy, free from suffering and fulfilled) taking that step towards offering love to the bomber (not his actions) seems difficult in a culture that talks of perpetrators as 'losers' or cowards. Who can actually imagine the inner terrain of someone so bombarded and brainwashed that they are willing to blow themselves up? Rona Fields looks at this in her interesting book Martyrdom: The Psychology, Theology, and Politics of Self-Sacrifice

The language of hero and loser is reductive and binary. Those who make simple #usefulandkind gestures do it automatically (gathering children to take them to a hotel, sitting with the dying to give comfort, loaning someone your 'phone).

Our work at U&K Unltd is to raise awareness of all these issues and to encourage the useful and kind in us all. The great and generous people of Manchester did not do it for reward, or aggrandisement they did it because they could, because they had to and because we are hard wired to do so. My sense is that so often the generous financial post-event recognition can be an assuaging of our collective guilt and relief.

So as we come to the weekend let us pause. Let us be mindful. Let us give thanks to those who showed how prosocial behaviour is the best of us. It is all of us. Let us grieve the tragic loss. Let us learn love for our neighbour and our enemy.

Show love.

Thanks to those who have helped my thinking on these matters this week (Mark Loftus, Iqbal Wahab, Daniel Goleman, Dulcie and Ella Fraser)

Can we be well when others aren't?


Can you be well when others aren’t?

The lovely people at asked me to write this first #usefulandkind post. I shall be working with them directly later in the year.

We live in an unfair world. Opportunity is not equal. 1% own as much as the other 99%. War is common. Materialism in the West is God. Old models are not working for the most. Even with this imbalance the 1% use power to impose austerity and hold on rather than make sacrifices for a greater fairer world.

For over a hundred years psychologists have been looking at what can go wrong for us from depression, to grief to the topical narcissism. For 20 years the positive psychologists have been looking at what contributes to our happiness and wellbeing. For about 10 years mindfulness and some Buddhist teachings have all been used to help us as individuals take more control of our own wellbeing. Neuroscience demonstrates what we have known intuitively for millennia; that secure attachment through empathy is what massively informs our happiness and even longevity.

Wellbeing and social action

So all this got me wondering what would Rosa Parks have done knowing all of this on that famous bus ride. She would have been able to name her feelings, identify her anger, feel compassion towards the woman who told her top get off her seat. But should she have got up? No of course not. My concern has been that much of our work in wellbeing has isolated itself from social action.

There are, and always have been, individuals and groups willing to put themselves on the line to bring about profound and lasting prosocial change, from the Abolitionists to the Suffragettes. They realised that profound sustainable change was about more than one person and often takes more than one lifetime. Empathy, compassion, righteous indignation fuelled prosocial change.

This work is far from done. We live in an age which will be viewed by history as pivotal. As we look back now to the build up to Kristallnacht, so will our successors judge the way we have handled the refugee crisis. Our grandchildren involved in food wars will look back on the Paris 2015 climate conference with despair, and especially at Trump’s contribution if he withdraws from the agreement. Social historians will wonder why in the face of such riches we were unable to rebalance poverty and social justice.

Supporting prosocial leaders

So we at Useful and Kind are trying to address some of these big issues by helping prosocial leaders of all sorts to be the best they can be. We will help them to connect and be the leaders of the change they want to see. Whatever your perspective – whether you favour the rich and wonderful concept of Ubuntu, or believe in the new physics that we are all just related carbon atoms, or have a faith that sees our respective spirits as collaborative – it is clear that we are inter-connected. 

I believe that I can only be truly well when my brothers and sisters, be they neighbours or on the other side of the world, are well too. It is about celebrating diversity and difference. Giving and not counting the cost. Not fighting for what we believe is right, but loving and willing it into being.

A prosocial leader is someone who leads, lives and acts for the welfare and wellbeing of others and the world.

We are developing four initial strands of work:

•    a series of networking seminars helping to grow a ‘community of hope in the dark’

•    an international year long development programme for 30, under thirty year old prosocial leaders

•    a national summer school for 30, Year 11s at Bootham School in York

•    geographical hubs in the South West (Bristol), Merseyside and the North East working to support those involved in our activities and developing and supporting prosocial leadership in the community.

We can all be useful and kind. And this is the understanding that will inform our work. 

Get involved

Please join us by making a 30 second video telling us about a time recently when someone was useful and kind to you, or, you to them and tweet it @usefulandkind or email to