By Marina Cantacuzino, Founder of The Forgiveness Project, 20 October 2018

Few would doubt that civility, understanding and forgiveness are the oil of personal relationships: we know that how we treat our friends and family is how we invite them to treat us.

So how come it’s so different with strangers, in the street or online where the anonymity of internet can make a monster out of any of us? Righteous outrage, threat and verbal abuse so easily becomes the norm on public platforms.

I was struck by what Jonathan Friedland wrote in The Guardian last June in response to rise of the Far Right across Europe. He warned:

Put starkly, the norms and taboos established after the world witnessed the Holocaust are eroding before our eyes.

"For 70-odd years, roughly the span of a human life, they endured, keeping the lid on the darker impulses that, we had seen, lurked within all of us. It steadily became taboo to voice undiluted racism and xenophobia. Those fears, those loathings of the stranger, never went away, of course. But they were held in check, partly by the knowledge of where such hatred, unrestrained, could lead. Now, in the US, Italy, Hungary, Poland and elsewhere, the restraints are off."

If as Friendland says the restraints are off there seems no more important time for Compassion in Politics to be born - a movement which is gathering momentum every day with backing and support from a diverse group of individuals and organisations, from Professor Naom Chomsky and George Mombiot, to Jo Swinson MP, Plaid Cymru and Generation Rent.

This brand new initiative which held its inaugural conference at All Souls College, Oxford, last month aims to do something radical by putting compassion back into the heart of politics. It states boldly that kindness, empathy and cooperation are the strongest weapons we have to fight hate and bigotry.

The Forgiveness Project Founder, Marina Cantacuzino at the Compassion in Politics Conference 2018.

The conference was opened by Lord Dubs who said that today's mounting threat from the Far Right is compassion's greatest enemy. Paul Gilbert, author of 'The Compassionate Mind', warned also of the dark side of compassion - our ability to turn compassion on and off by deciding who is worthy of our moral concern, and who is not. Western leaders, he said, are manufacturing a sense of fear in order to, "flood communities with threat". But this is extremely dangerous as the human mind "can easily be pushed into the dark side".

But how do we create a society where it becomes possible to talk about compassion without being ridiculed? Compassion in Politics co-founder, Jennifer Nadel, explained that: "In a patriarchal system it’s easy to dismiss compassion because it’s seen as 'female'." The British-Somali activist and Lord Mayor of Sheffied, Magid Magid, insisted that

we must do everything we can to demonstrate that 'compassion is the ultimate manifestation of strength'.

A more compassionate politics doesn’t mean we all have to agree, or that we don’t rigorously hold people accountable but it does mean refraining from name calling and mud-slinging. As Brené Brown has said: "Every time we dehumanize someone…it’s like wanting to hurt someone by putting poison in the water supply – you’re going to have to drink that water too!"

So how can we start to bring compassion into politics if we’re not directly involved in politics? For a start we can watch how we talk about politicians and people in positions of power, take care not to use violent rhetoric when we describe and write about people we disapprove of or disagree with.

There is a law in martial arts which says that meeting hardness with softness is the most effective way to overcome your opponent. James Melville, the marketing specialist and a vocal Remainer, applied this rule by making this announcement to his Twitter trolls earlier this year: "The more you hurl abuse the more it makes me want to tweet about a world with compassion, fairness, equality and justice. Because in the end hope will always beat hate."

In a similar vein Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Angela Rayner’s advice for other victims of online trolls was not to counter the violent rhetoric with more violent rhetoric but to adopt a compassionate response instead, because, as she wrote:

If you plant a seed of love or affection you can create an environment where people feel tremendously better, and you will feel better by doing that as well!

Compassion is the most disarming weapon we have to combat bigotry and abuse. If we want to change the tenor of political debate in public discourse, perhaps the first step we can take is to change the language we use in our daily lives.

Please consider helping us promote humanising stories to transform hate into hope and conflict into conversation by donating to The Forgiveness Project and supporting our work in schools, prisons, the community and online.