“People helping people—that’s been a driving force for me, my whole life. I got into politics partly to awaken each citizen’s awareness that he or she could make the world a better place.” -Mayor Greg Fischer
Mayor Fischer said this at a speech he gave on compassion at the 2011 Festival of Faiths to introduce the new “Partnership for a Compassionate City.” In the speech he highlighted various programs already had dedicated to spreading compassion, in Louisville, and introduced a newly created task force to engage compassion as a community initiative to “make the world a better place.”
Mayor Fischer’s journey to transforming Louisville into a compassionate city was inspired by Karen Armstrong’s 2008 Ted Talk calling for a worldwide initiative committed to treating others as you would want to be treated, the “Golden Rule.” In the Ted Talk, Armstrong encouraged leaders of the Abrahamic religions- Christianity, Judaism, and Islam- to engage in a dialogue regarding the “Golden Rule,” a common theme of the three religions. This talk inspired the drafting of the Compassion Charter which included input from all world religions. The charter has collected almost 107k individual signatures and organizations (such as Spaulding University), cities like Louisville and Seattle, and the first country Botswana have also committed to practicing compassion. If the “Golden Rule” is the basis for many world religions, you might be asking why does there need to be a charter for compassion?
Karen Armstrong’s talk identifies several barriers people face in expressing compassion for those around them; one being that it takes practice, another is religious fundamentalism. The charter goes beyond creed to ask all people regardless or faith (or lack-of) to treat everyone as they would like to be treated. This is not a grandiose idea without tangible benefits, research has shown the detrimental effects of “compassion fatigue” on quality of healthcare and education, plus damage to the parties involved quality of life. The practice of compassion is not limited to personal or professional interactions, but can also guide public policy, or company mission statements. The 2013 Festival of Faiths featured the work James Doty, founder of an organization dedicated to compassion research.
The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education is dedicated to “promoting, supporting, and conducting rigorous scientific studies of compassion and altruistic behavior.” The website has links to several studies that show how non-compassionate actions (such as social dominance) affect social groups, the effects of compassion practices on the brain, how meditation increases the capacity for compassion, and the benefits of compassion interventions on children exposed to war trauma. The center also funds future research and offers both educational videos, on the website, and education opportunities at Stanford. The founder of the Compassion Charter, Karen Armstrong, admits embracing compassion for her is “the struggle of a lifetime” and something that takes a lot of practice. I would compare it to exercise, something that needs to be practiced regularly and gets easier with time.
Compassion Louisville is a local group dedicated to exploring ways to bring compassion into various areas of our community. The group offers resources for ways to practice compassion and is divided up into four “constellations” dedicated to different groups- healthcare, organizations, practice, and youth education. I attended a meeting for the healthcare constellation focusing on bringing compassion to hospice care a few months ago, I was impressed by the diversity and passion of the group. Besides meeting to talk, one tangible thing the healthcare constellation has done was to offer a workshop, Hearts in Healthcare, and set goals for engaging our local healthcare organizations to increase compassion. Compassionate Louisville offers many resources for the community, if a group does not exist for your profession or interest you could help bring compassion to that area!
Mayor Fischer conceded, in his speech, compassion is difficult to talk about without sounding corny, but like him, I feel this is a practice every person can engage to make our community and world a better place to live. You can learn more about the charter or sign it here, on the website you can also learn about registering your organization or company and efforts taking place all over the world.
Derby season is over, but events in Louisville continue in May with The Festival of Faiths, “Sacred Earth, Sacred Self,” starting next week. This year’s festival is sure to spark conversations and possibly movements that will make the world more livable. A topic has eluded me for next month, if you have a suggestion send me an email (Jamagn01@gmail.com), if not I will think of something. Until then, enjoy the lovely spring weather.