I have had the opportunity to live in several communities in my 67 years of life. As a child, in those formative years, I lived in Schenectady, New York and King of Prussia, Pennsylvania with summers spent at a family home on Tom’s Pond, New Hampshire. Life during those years seemed idyllic and opportunities for compassion seemed limited to family and neighborhood friends when someone was sick or hurt or there was a death in the family.
I attended Catholic school where we had lessons of “treat thy neighbor as thyself”, a favorite of mine “there but for the grace of God go I” and the profound “I am my brother’s keeper”. Yet deliberate opportunities and lessons to practice compassion and empathy for those less fortunate are remembered as small fundraisers for poor people in other countries and most importantly for “pagan babies” (babies who died before they were baptized).
An event of particular significance for me is when we moved to King of Prussia and my father told the realtor to show him homes only in neighborhoods where African Americans were permitted to live. Later, when we moved to Glendora, CA he refused to join the neighborhood country club because neither Jews or African Americans were permitted membership. This was my first big lesson in compassion for others and lack thereof and in understanding my parents’ deep belief that all are created equal. My father’s job required that he travel globally. When he returned from a trip he would hold a family meeting and teach us about people he met that were less fortunate than ourselves.
It was my parents’ treatment of people including how they treated our friends and learning what my parents valued most which taught us a natural context of empathy and concern. I am very grateful for this. I wonder if these lessons were passed down from their parents.
As a vulnerable teenager and young adult, living in Tustin, Orange County, California I found myself greatly influenced by the messages outside my home. Perhaps it was that I was older, more exposed and also weakened by the sudden death of my mother that I fell prey to an intense pressure of “keeping up with the Jones”. I witnessed that affluence and its imposed status became a new god. Now, years later and living back in this same community I see those superficial mandates as influences of greed and ignorance and often stemming from fear and a lack of self-worth.
What makes a compassionate city or community is the statement a community makes about the quality treatment of all members of the community especially those in need, less fortunate or subject to prejudice and the obvious demonstrations of that belief. That coveted commodities of time and money have been released among the community like the hummingbirds and butterflies we nurture and cherish. This type of work is being done in communities by individuals, local churches, and organizations and is influenced by activists and national and global organizations. However, as an inclusive community, these messages and actions are lacking the penetration and oversight needed.
I believe we are at a crossroads across the globe and at a ripe opportunity for convergence and enlightenment. Discussions and actions around becoming a compassionate city, offering educational tools and programs for local government and having government officials and collaborators be receptive is a demonstration of just that.
In many ways, compassion is a new term. Therefore it needs to be taught newly and pragmatically. It needs to be taught in our schools beginning with the very young and taught newly and deeply to our adults. It needs light to shine upon it. I am happy to hear that some schools in the United States are beginning to teach meditation in the classrooms and that curriculum has begun to include compassion as an important component.
The problems that face my community are also universal problems beginning with the need for a spoken reverence for each human being. That diversity and different ideologies should be embraced, and that those less fortunate regardless of the reason be lifted up by the compassionate, the strong and the capable. Harder these days is that political beliefs and differences be respected and that all individuals be included in the umbrella of love for our fellow beings. Locally, we have problems of homelessness, poverty. prejudice, addiction, violence, mental illness and the threat of unaffordable healthcare. A significant shift in context and perspective among local governments, organizations, and individuals and committed implementation of new programs and education will make the difference here. An understanding that the need for healing at different times and for different reasons in a person’s lifetime is a part of the human condition and effective, caring solutions must be provided.
My personal contribution to a compassionate world and to my community is largely through my volunteer work with The Charter For Compassion. As a result of this life-changing work, I also find many small yet huge ways of influencing my specific community. As simply as the people I see and interact with in the grocery store and outside the grocery store and street corners to new and different gentle conversations with strangers, friends, and colleagues. I have discovered that there is a way to express sometimes controversial opinions without a sense of preaching. A favorite line of mine is “it all comes down to love” or “all there is is love” and my mainstay belief that “There but for the grace of God go I”.
~Nancy Rushlow Bray is an Emmy award-winning producer and recipient of several Clio Awards for excellence in advertising. She excels in her ability to combine business prowess and the creative experience. She is an enthusiastic and compassionate champion for the human spirit and contributes her success to her insatiable appetite to engage. Recognizing each person’s inherent worth and appreciating their individuality is her trademark. She began her career producing visual effects for the acclaimed PBS series Cosmos and continued on as the executive producer/producer for academy-award winner, Robert Blalack, (Star Wars) also becoming the studio’s vice-president of operations & business development. She has produced for such notable companies as Praxis Films, 20th Century Fox, and ABC as well as advertisers such as Coca-cola, Kodak, Panasonic, Chevrolet, and Toyota. Nancy is retired and spends much of her time volunteering for the Charter For Compassion as a Charter Education Institute Advisor.