Stories from Members
When Louisville, Ky., Mayor Greg Fischer took office in 2011, he stated his three top goals for the city: health, education and compassion. Promises to improve health and education might be standard fare for inaugural addresses - but compassion?
THE MAYOR AND THE MONK
That day, the mayor cited inspiration from a longtime Louisville resident, Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and scholar who had lived much of his life in an abbey nearby.
"Just two blocks from here," Mayor Fischer said, "at 4th Street and Muhammad Ali, the Trappist monk and scholar Thomas Merton had a famous epiphany, a sudden moment of insight, as he stood amidst the hustle and bustle of what was then our city's main shopping district…[Merton] was gripped by an overpowering realization that all those bustling people were not strangers. All human beings were connected. 'They were mine and I was theirs' are the words he wrote in his diary on that 1958 day."
"We are already one," Merton famously said, "but we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity."
Mayor Fischer set out to make Merton's wish manifest. Using his new office and his powers of persuasion, he put a resolution forward to the Louisville Metro Council making Louisville an official 'compassionate city,' complete with the required 10-year plan.
The resolution read, "Whereas Louisville is a quintessential 'heartland America' city - neither north, south, nor coastal and located close to the mean center of the United States population and..."
And while it might have sounded like any number of prosaic bureaucratic documents, the resolution's results were anything but mundane. Immediately, compassion became part of the city government's mindset.
Sadiqa Reynolds, the mayor's chief of community building, notes: "Having compassion in your mind as you go about your work automatically begins to shift the way you craft your policy."
CONVENER OF IDEAS
Of course, it's one thing to issue a proclamation, sign a resolution or even initiate a handful of government projects. It's another entirely to engage a whole city of individuals with their own busy lives to lead.
The mayor's plan notes that "Compassion is the shared purpose and principle" and "Compassion is a common ground and unifying force in our polarized world," but it also states that "the project is powered at the periphery and unified at the core."
As Sadiqa Reynolds says, the city doesn't want to prescribe what compassionate acts people take but to serve and a convener of ideas and a facilitator.
THE WORLD RECORD FOR SERVICE
As a starting point, the mayor asked for one commitment only: that the entire community of Louisville give a day of service during the week of the Kentucky Derby. This give-a-day week is no small matter - Mayor Fischer aims for Louisville to set a world record for individual acts of service.
The city has set up a website where residents can create their own service projects or search for places to serve that interest them. The only problem right now, says Reynolds, "is that with so many people, we need more projects."
EVERYTHING IS BIG
And the give-a-day projects? They are varied - and valuable, no matter their scope.
"It's all big stuff ," says Reynolds. "If you talk about building a house for a family that has not had one, that's big stuff. It changes people's lives. Painting in a community center is big stuff; it changes the lives of those kids who go there. The color of the wall impacts sometimes even how they feel about themselves. They are all big things."
A CITYWIDE EFFORT
Louisville's compassionate city plans don't end with Derby Week. There is a restorative justice program in the courts; the Fund for the Arts is planning special programming; the Muhammad Ali Center plans educational events; the young professionals group will focus on compassion in business. In addition, the city's Spalding University has been named the first compassionate university and is creating a model compassion curriculum.
THE ONE THING
It turns out that for Louisville, becoming a compassionate city wasn't that hard a sell. "It's as if the mayor just forced us to memorialize what we do and what is in our hearts already," Reynolds says.
"It's the thing," she says, "that no matter if you are rich or poor, we all have need for. If you live long enough, you will long for or need or desire compassion from someone. It is also the one thing we all have to give."‹ previous next ›