In May of 2016, Compassionate City of Belfast led four community “Conversations Exploring Compassion.” The event description shares that the aim was to explore “how the Charter for Compassion will translate into a tangible plan for compassionate action among our citizens and communities,” as well as, “how it can be best used to promote an understanding in our unique city context of Belfast.”
Image: Compassionate City of Belfast logo, via their Facebook Page
Frank Liddy, Chairperson of Compassion City of Belfast and Co-founding Director of the Belfast Mindfulness Centre who has extensive experience in the community care voluntary mental health sector as well as mindfulness based initiatives, was kind enough to share his reflections on these events. He explained that the Compassionate City Belfast Board and Marilyn Turkovich (Director, Charter for Compassion) were inspired to bring compassionate conversations across the city of Belfast and to explore what a compassionate city there would look like.
“Here in Belfast we have four quarters to our city and due to our troubled past, each quarter more or less remains separate in a once divided city. The sad news is that these sometimes quarters were separated by what [are] called the peace walls or lines...the West was predominately aligned to Green / Republicanism and Nationalist / Catholic, the East would be seen as Orange / Protestant / Loyalist, the North would have been described as a patchwork area of both Protestant / Catholic and other (the North of the city also experienced the most loss through the troubles), and the South of the city was a neutral area and a more affluent area.”
Images: Peace Walls in Belfast, via Frank Liddy
One Board member served as a host and one as support for each event. Bill Shaw covered the North with Mary McManus as his support, Carolyn Blair covered the South with Frank Liddy as support, Mary McManus covered East Belfast with Bill Shaw in support, and Frank Liddy covered the West with Carolyn Blair as support. The Northern Ireland Mental Health and Arts Film Festival (NIMHAFF) was also an organizer of Conversations Exploring Compassion in East Belfast.
Image from left to right: Mary Mc Manus, Rev Bill Shaw OBE, Maírtín O Muilleoir (Northern Ireland Minister for Finance), Carolyn Blair, and Frank Liddy.
During the conversations, information was shared though a presentation and video explaining how the Belfast Compassionate Charter was formed and endorsed by City Hall, and about the Charter for Compassion International. Participants broke up into groups of about 10 people to discuss the meaning of compassion and what compassion in Belfast might look like. The workshops lasted from 90 minutes to two hours on average and ended with a video of The Golden Rule, which “on feedback from participants was a great note to end on offering hope.”
Images: Belfast city Hall, via Frank Liddy
Here is Liddy’s view on what happened during the conversational workshops: “[c]ompassion was put on the agenda for folk to look at in a new way; with new eyes and ears, hearts and minds.” He also says that he learned there was an interest in and hunger for discussion of compassion, that there was safety in the topic, and about the “refreshing openness which this topic brings up within groups.” He left the conversations with an awareness of “[t]he diversity and many lenses of perception that enable and allow folk to explore Compassion.”
These Conversations Exploring Compassion were clearly a rich and engaging series of events, laying the groundwork for further future connections and growth inspired by compassion in Belfast. Liddy shares that, “[a]s a city in post conflict, I believe that compassion is the flower of our city's suffering.”