Learning Disabilities & Autism Opinion

Survival of the kindest

Clenton Farquharson. Chairman of TLAP

What sector leaders and care providers can learn from experts by experience and people who are marginalised by society?

The American political scientist Christopher Kukk has argued that the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ is often incorrectly attributed to Darwin when in fact the term was coined by the philosopher Herbert Spencer. He goes on to suggest that Darwin actually considered co-operation, connection and sympathy as key to our survival, developing this idea through his ‘sympathy hypothesis’. Darwin’s own words on this are profound when he wrote that “Those communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best and rear the greatest number of off -spring.” And so, far from advocating the sharp elbows of competition, which is the popular understanding of Darwin, he actually expounded the ‘survival of the kindest.’*

The pandemic has highlighted just that. We have seen how individual acts of kindness harnessed into a network of mutual aid have allowed communities to survive and become better connected.  Sustaining this is now the real challenge: after all what is the motivation for individuals in ordinary times? I believe we need to use the idea of ‘survival of the kindest’ to help create a better and more human form of social care, which in turn requires a different form of leadership. The kind of leadership where everyone plays an integral part within a wider web of connections: whether you are a supportive neighbour, care worker, chief executive of a care provider, or the person with a disability. There is no better recipe to instilling a sense of belonging and building social capital than when everyone plays a part.

So, the question we should be asking is what is the role of commissioners, care providers, people with lived experience and family carers in creating the conditions that will help to cultivate a ‘survival of the kindest’ culture? How could the ripples expand from the street to local, regional and national levels? What would be the policies, procedures and practices to underpin this approach?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but listening would be a start. If more people in positions of power cultivated an attitude that genuinely listens to people with lived experience of disability, they would realise that care cannot just be measured by key performance indicators. We need what I describe as key human indicators: measures that reflect what matters most to people. TLAP’s Making it Real framework is a good example of what I mean.

Another obstacle to the ‘survival of the kindest’ is that leaders seldom hear from people whose experiences fall outside their own world view. Since there are multiple perspectives on the truth, why should one be more valuable than the other?  We all have different starting points in life. Mine was to be brought up with five siblings by parents who arrived on the Windrush who between them worked six jobs. I slept top to tail in bed and was 19 when I first visited a museum. There are thousands of people like me, marginalised by society, with similar rich insights able to frame a dialogue that brings in the views of the many and not the few, if leaders reach out and take the time to listen.

I say that where there is ignorance, there is indifference and inaction. But we can overcome this with understanding, unity and a sense of urgency. The virus has brought the worst, but the coming together of people and communities has shown us some of the best. Let’s make sure we learn the lessons from the ‘survival of the kindest’ that we have witnessed in order to that we can create a fairer and more inclusive approach to social care that is so urgently needed.

*The Compassionate Achiever: How Helping Others Fuels Success by Christopher L. Kukk, Ph.D.

Edel Harris





Dementia Ad





Email Newsletter