In May 2020 in the middle of lockdown we held a workshop hosted by Culture Declares programme The Offer in partnership with Common Cause Foundation

Watch a RECORDING of the session

Covid-19 changed our world in ways that we could never have imagined, and in doing so revealed many anomalies that have challenged us. In our 24/7 world, the brakes have been slammed and our attention drawn to how we live during and through this pandemic.

Amidst this we saw an outpouring of compassionate responses by many people: neighbours doing each other’s shopping, people donating to charities, volunteers signing up to help and support the NHS. Suddenly, we were reminded of what really matters, what our priorities are in the face of adversity when there is a direct threat to our life.

Many people expressed surprise at these individual responses of kindness and compassion. What does this say about the kind of society we believe we are? The collective care we have seen in every part of the country stands in sharp contradiction to what we have been taught about the priorities of our fellow citizens.

Common Cause Foundation (CCF) work with something we call the ‘perception gap’. It is a simple but powerful finding that most people care deeply for others and the wider world.  But the majority of us underestimate the extent to which our fellow citizens care about these things. This is of profound importance, because it is found that when we hold more authentic perspectives of others’ values we are more likely to feel connected to our communities, support action on social or environmental challenges, show greater motivation to become engaged in collective action, and feel higher wellbeing.

Our cultural sphere is an important realm in which to express and strengthen the values of compassion, connection and community, and where we might be supported in developing more accurate perceptions of our fellow citizens’ values.  Happy Museum have worked with CCF for several years now developing projects and hosting workshops in museums across the UK to explore this potential.

In this session we explored the research and considered how we in the cultural sector can help to bridge the perception gap and create opportunities for people to express and celebrate shared values as we emerged from restrictions on movement and social distancing.  How might we apply an understanding of values to help our communities build resilience together in the future?

Ideas that emerged in the session and were shared in the chatbox

‘If there is a real commitment to staff values it creates the culture that enables those compassionate behaviours with others outside the organisation’

‘We’re going to think about body language and communication around compassionate values when looking at risk assessments for H&S’

‘Attend to relationships and encounters more, with culture of facilitation’ 

‘Work with a questioning outlook more frequently, and try to avoid making judgements. Perhaps even have specific prompts that work towards addressing compassionate value thinking.’

‘I’ve been thinking a lot about compassionate leadership and how we can challenge (are teams, leaders, organisations) in a compassionate way.’

‘to really think about the contribution we make to the conversation esp on social media – sharing positive stories and invitations to collaborate.’

‘there is opportunity for us in museums to connect more meaningfully with our leisure centre colleagues in xxx by exploring what it is that makes our visitors value us’.

‘Use open spaces to change the conversations – we have all come to value these so much but government message challenges community response.’

‘Consider how we might facilitate lockdown stories to engage people in the business communities and political parties – as lockdown community spirit runs over into concerns re. climate breakdown.’

‘One practical thing is that I am going to design some facilitated sessions for our volunteers when we return, inspired by the work at MM.’

‘Ask what we can do for our audiences as opposed to assume.’

‘we talked about empowerment – I’ve noticed that people feel more empowered to explore creativity (who consider themselves non-artists) when doing it at home where they can’t be judged and where they have the opportunity to not share what they have done if they don’t want to – I think this is something that might encourage a greater diversity of voice.’

Some recent pieces on a similar theme

A great article by Heather Stewart reflecting on a shift in government messaging around covid and another piece in a similar vein from the New Citizenship Project

A new book, Humankind by Rutger Bregman which takes optimism in an exploration of our core instincts and a fascinating piece taken from the book that looks at a real life ‘Lord of the Flies’ telling a very different story about human nature.

Finally ‘The way we get through this together: the rise of mutual aid under coronovirus’ by Rebecca Solnit’s