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Bringing People Together to Create Individual and Systemic Change

Report on Conference Call: Call to Action: Bringing People Together to Create Individual and Systemic Change, Feb 3, 2016

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Welcome and Introduction of the Speakers

Reed Price: Welcome everyone. In honor of World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW), the Charter for Compassion International is hosting a series of Maestro Conference calls. Today’s conference call is the third in this series. Monday we heard from Karin Miller about her book “Global Values” and her organization, “Our New Evolution.” On Tuesday we heard from Imam Jamal Rahman and Rabbi Ted Falcon, two of the Interfaith Amigos, on bridging differences and understanding faith traditions. Today we are going to explore communication and safe spaces in a “Call to Action: Bringing People Together to Create Individual and Systemic Change.”

We are partnering with our sibling organization “The Compassion Games International.” We invite you to participate in their World Interfaith Harmony Week coopetition. Go to, register, and post your thoughts about today’s call or other reflections from this week on the global Compassion Map. You are welcome to join the “Charter for Compassion” team in the Games.

Now, I am very honored to introduce our speakers. We will hear from Aleasa Word, Marie Roker-Jones, and Louisa Hext.

Aleasa M. Word is an internationally certified Emotional Intelligence Coach, workshop facilitator, speaker, author and an Editor with “The Good Men Project” Digital Publication. Via her “Chapter 2 Living Program” (, Ms. Word helps others embrace their humanness in the current moment as a forward moving catalyst for change in life strategies, including decision making, conflict resolution, diversity & inclusion, leadership effectiveness, employee communication and stress management. Additionally, she is very passionate about the areas of restorative justice, compassionate living and her advocacy work for those living with life threatening food allergies.

Louisa Hext is the North American coordinator for the traveling photographic exhibition, “The F Word: Images of Forgiveness,” a program of “The Forgiveness Project”, a UK-based nonprofit. The exhibit, curated in 2004, uses story-telling to explore ideas around forgiveness and reconciliation and how they can be used to impact positively on people’s lives. She has extensive experience as an advocate in human and civil rights. Louisa is a skilled and experienced mediator, consultant and coach. She serves as the lead volunteer for Charter for Compassion International's Peace and Non-Violence sector.

Marie Roker-Jones is Founder of “Raising Great Men” - life skills for boys to mind up, not man up. She is also co-founder, with Louisa Hext, of “#CompassionConvos”- challenging bias through compassionate action. Marie has over 15 years of experience in program development, community building, coaching and career development. Marie is a NAMA certified Anger Management Specialist, a certified intrinsic coach and Youth Mental Health First Aider, working with kids and teens to be "smart with their hearts". She is also the Senior Editor of the “Raising Boys” section of “The Good Men Project.”

Thank you all for being with us today. We’re grateful and honored.

Aleasa will start us off with some reflections on emotional intelligence and building communication bridges, and then she’ll hand off to Marie and Louisa who will share their first-hand work on developing safe spaces with #CompassionConvos.


Speakers Presentations

Aleasa Word: I am very honored to be on the call today. When I was asked to speak, I began thinking about some things to share. However, sometimes we are thrown a curve ball and our plans change. Today, I want to talk today about something that happened to me a few days ago. A man contacted me. He had recently moved to Atlanta from a rather upscale area in another state. He was now living in a more diverse neighborhood. It was a different culture. He came to me because he was conflicted about something that happened to him in the metro train. He was concerned because he had taken the train over the weekend and experienced an overwhelming fear of the people who were riding in the train with him. The people on the train on the weekend were different than those he had seen riding the train during the week. There were young African American men on the train, with different hair styles and clothing, who had headphones on listening to music. He began feel scared and worried, clutching his belongings and devices. He was relieved when he came to his train stop. He felt horrible about himself. He knew there was no reason for his being scared except for his own reflections and judgments that he had brought with him from another state. I told him that he had experienced a moment of awakening. This is the essence of “emotional intelligence:” when we allow ourselves to be enlightened by new information. This happened to this man when he moved to a diverse neighborhood. His prior messaging could not be his authority. His fears were battling with his logic and reason which told him that these were just people on the train and not a threat.

There is more than one voice that speaks to us as to how we react and interact. First, we have our “logical voice”- the voice of reason- expressing what should make sense and happen. This voice means well but can be overridden by other factors. Second, we have our “categorization voice”- it can be the instigator behind our biases. This voice helps us categorize things into groups in order for our brain to handle them. Sometimes, we get things wrong, based on past experiences or influences, such as the media, etc. People are exposed to a lot of stereotypical information. Third, we have the “relief voice” of enlightenment. It plays referee between the other two voices. This is where conflict comes. We have our old belief system and our logical voice challenges that. The man who talked with me did not know he had a faulty way of thinking until he moved to a diverse neighborhood. We must realize that we all smile in the same language, we want to belong, we want to be heard and seen as part of the human race. Belonging is a basic human need. Outward appearances do not change that we want to belong. In studying emotional intelligence, I look at relationship management. This man had to self-regulate during this encounter. He was living in a place of fear but he was fighting that because it did not make any sense. We can relate to his sense of fear since all of us have had stressful experiences such as starting a new job, becoming a parent, etc. We can be afraid when thing are not familiar, especially when we group people and think they will behave a certain way. It is not always a conscious prejudice. This man was not openly discriminating. However, he knew his bias was happening in his mind. How do we identify such bias and how do we fix it? We have to recognize that bias exits in all of us. Don’t beat yourself up. Reflect on your personal social circle. Do you try to expand that to include others that don’t look or act like you? If not, then when we find ourselves in different, unfamiliar circumstances, we may feel overwhelmed. As parents, do you associate with others that are different from you? It is important to do so as a model for your children. If we do not do this, we can reinforce unconscious bias. There are many things we can do. We can educate ourselves- go to different museums, e.g. the Martin Luther King, Jr. museum, a Jewish museum, etc. Read books. Get involved in community groups. Understand the importance of collective living in harmony. Acknowledge your fear. When you do this, some people may not want to be around you as much because you have moved forward from bias and have empowered yourself. When conflict happens, continue to breathe. Use a common sense approach. Face the fears of your bias. Get involved in multi-cultural and/or interfaith activities. You do not have to change your faith base. You can still be who you are. Many voices create the beautiful array that creates the whole. Don’t be afraid to talk to a coach or professional. Take your time. This is a process. Change does not occur overnight. You have to trust the process and love yourself along the way. This man was beating himself up. This is counter-productive. Focus on empathy, compassion, tolerance and respect. I like to think of diversity like a fruit salad. By themselves, each fruit does not do much, but together they make something wonderful.

Now I will turn it over to Louis Hext and Marie Roker-Jones. They have started “#CompassionConvos,” bringing diverse people together for conversation. By creating change inside ourselves, we create a better world. Thank you.

Marie Roker-Jones: Hello everyone. I am the co-founder of #CompassionConvos along with Louisa Hext. I am delighted to share this experience with these two women (Aleasa and Louisa) and talk with you about something we are passionate about.

We will discuss how #CompassionConvos has evolved, what we’ve done, and how we’ve taken our personal experiences to help others address their own biases.

Louisa and I met through the Charter for Compassion International on a call similar to this one. I live in New York City and Louisa lives in Minneapolis. We started having phone conversations. It has been a learning and growing experience. We both became compassionate listeners. We were able to explore our differences through listening. We realized this would be ideal for others as well. Before we talk about compassionate action, we have to look within and talk about what is going on within ourselves. Unless we challenge our bias, how can we create compassionate connections? Sometimes we are afraid to be accountable to our biases. We’d rather pretend they don’t exist. We need to confront and address biases. #CompassionConvos can really help people improve their communities. We had to create a safe space. It requires building trust and meeting people where they are emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It is helping people feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable. It is a safe, supported environment to have uncomfortable conversations. How do we promote inclusive conversations? How do we look at pre-existing biases that may threaten a safe space? How do we move people from their biases? This takes time. Now, Louisa will address the action part of #CompassionConvos.

Louisa Hext: Hello and thanks so much Marie. This is a bridge-building experience for all of us on the call. There is much research out there that helps support this work. From the outset, Marie and I wanted to start small and have conversations that are often difficult to have.

One of the things I think is important when we talk about compassion and empathy and sympathy. 98% of our population is hard-wired for empathy. We have an impulse to have a social connection with others. I really resonate with people. Empathy and social connection are about the art of stepping into the shoes of the other and seeing the world through their eyes- not necessarily looking for commonality but looking for differences. This is the essence of the Golden Rule. Cognitive empathy is about recognizing the differences in others. Building on that- it takes a lot of patience and commitment. It is uncomfortable. You also have to be okay with the discomfort in the other person-perhaps when someone is defensive.

I have a personal story to share. I was on an airplane travelling back from London to the United States. It was not long after 9/11. I was seated next to a man who was reading the Quran. I saw him as brown-skinned and thought he was Muslim. I was nervous when he left his seat and went in the restroom for fifteen min. Here I was, a person who had worked in social justice and who is Jewish, and, I was freaking out. Then, I started beating myself up. The man returned to his seat. The plane did not blow up. I took a deep breath and touched his arm and I told him my feelings and I entered into an amazing conversation with him. He was post Ph.D. and was pursuing another degree in the United States. The voice that inspired me, the courage that it took to reach out to him-- these are the things we try to make easier through #CompassionConvos. We have Twitter conversations about race, sexuality, Islamophobia, etc. We also have a presence on Facebook- a public Compassion Convos page and a closed Compassion Convos group. We set up the Facebook group because we wanted to move forward in a conversation with others. It is a safe space because you have to request to enter it. Every day, we post a story. Today is “self-compassion day.” Friday is “Forgiveness Friday.” We ask people to participate. We will have a resource list in the notes for this call. In addition, we are starting to talk about how we can do live events. There is interest in the New York City area and Northern New Jersey. In March, we will be doing a #CompassionConvos live. It will be at Bergen College in conjunction with the “Forgiveness Project.” We are thinking about how we will create a safe space at this live event. We are also working with #votenewyork- an outreach campaign of the New York City Campaign Finance Board- focusing on voter education and outreach to young people. We’ve also had interest expressed by the Community Affairs Unit of the City of New York and the New York City Mayor’s Clergy Advisory Council. The Council works directly with the Community Affairs Unit and senior Administration officials. We hope to work with Sarah Sayeed, Senior Advisor in the Community Affairs Unit. She specializes in issues related to the city’s Muslim community. Also, #CompassionConvos partners with the Charter for Compassion International and the Compassion Games International. We’ve joined with Melissa May who is involved with the Flint, Michigan water crisis. Clearly, there is a place for each one of you to get involved. Now, we’d love to open up the call for questions.

Reed: Yes. Now we have an opportunity for those on the call to join in the conversation. If you have a question or comment, press 1 on your phone to raise your hand. If you are on the social webinar, you can type in your questions via the chat box.


Questions & Answers

Reed: Louisa- Would you talk a little more about how you would describe a safe space?

Louisa: Through the lens of a live conversation, a safe space could be a room or a café (keeping aware of the public space) where you come together in circle. Also, the space could be very private- a conference room or classroom. The key is to develop guidelines. For me, the circle is important. Also, I like using a talking piece (an object to hold while you have the floor). When I have the talking piece, I can talk and when I don’t have it, I listen. The talking piece helps everyone have the opportunity to speak. We may come from a culture where our voice is less heard. It is important that we take everything that is said in the space and decide collectively that we do not share that information with others, unless we all agree to do so.

Regarding social media: our group on Facebook is a “closed” group. It is not public. We know who is in the group. Marie, please talk about Twitter and Blab.

Marie: I want to share a little more about safe space. It is a term that some do not understand. Louisa you did a great job making it a visual. We enter the space free of judgement. People come in and feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable. The comfort level of the space is judged by what people say and share in the space. What is important is that people are comfortable with silences. Sometimes, silence means someone is processing something or may not be comfortable with the topic. Everyone needs to respect that. We must not force anyone to speak or try to make people think the way we think. A safe space means we are being respectful and mindful of where everyone is emotionally and spiritually. We give people time to share according to their comfort level. We have chosen to make our group on Facebook private so that what the group says stays with the group. On Blab and Twitter, when we start a conversation, we are not there to judge or tell anyone how to think. Instead, we are there to guide the conversation. As long as people are respectful, we are not there to censor. These kinds of conversations are something you can do in your own family and in your community. Respect the sacred environment. Let people know they can be vulnerable.

Reed: Aleasa- How do you encourage respect of a safe space? What do you do to keep the space?

Aleasa: I am on the leadership team for Compassionate Atlanta. We discuss how we can use this in spreading compassion. We are working on a book, “Live Compassionately in a World of Diversity.” I have written a play on this theme as well. After people watch the play, we will have moderators present to help people talk at their tables and create a safe space to discuss what they have heard and seen. We keep the mindset of creating the type of space that we would want ourselves. You need to think about how you would like the space to be in order for you to feel comfortable talking about gender issues, parenting, etc. What would make sense for you? Speak to people where they are. Be the safe space for someone else that you would want them to be for you. What kind of space would help you express what you really feel about topics such as morbid obesity, gender change, etc?

Suzanne: Hi and thank you. I came to this call because I have started a project that I thought was constructive. But, I’m not getting much traction. I’m thinking people are not comfortable talking about it. I’d like your feedback and ask if you might be interested in helping. The topic is increasing trust between the South Asian communities and the local police. I think this safe space concept would be great for this.

Louisa: Where are you based?

Suzanne: I am in Atlanta.

Louisa: Your community can create a safe space for conversation. After the tragic Sikh temple shooting in Milwaukee, the community created their own safe space for conversation and discussion. They wanted to understand and learn from what occurred. Pardeep Kaleka, the son of the former temple president, Satwant Singh Kaleka, who was killed in the attack; and Arno Michaelis, a former white supremacist joined together. Arno Michaelis, who lives in Milwaukee, works to educate young people to take a stand against violence and hate. Story-telling is powerful. In the context of safe spaces and in conjunction with story-telling, people can have “aha” moments. You can invite law enforcement and people from the community who can share their stories to come together and talk. We all respond from fear and we have to learn how to respond differently. I’ll make sure to connect with you specifically about this. Does that help?

Suzanne: Yes, so much.

Aleasa: I’d love to talk with you about your project. I do some work with conflict mapping. This could be a way for your group to air their concerns separately and then find a way to bring those concerns together after they are identified and find the middle road for everyone. I’d be happy to see how we can work with that. Compassionate Atlanta has many people who could also have conversation with you. I will follow-up.

Reed: There was a mentally ill man killed by police in my neighborhood. We invited the parents of the person killed and the police chief to a meeting. The point of the meeting was to let the parents talk. The police chief was not expected to say anything, just listen. As it turned out, another senior member of the police force showed up. He voluntarily apologized to the family at the end of the meeting. You can create provisional safe spaces to help people truly listen. By asking the police representative to just listen, it created a safe space for both parties.

Louisa: It is important not to rush the process and be patient and do the work on the front-end. The key is to engage locally with people who are impacted. It is okay to invite others in who are considered to be experts/guests, but it is very important to figure out who is invested in the conversation and give them the opportunity to talk. Often, one side has one story and the other side has another. The real story usually includes some of both.

Reed: Are there any more questions?

Donna: Thank you so much. This is a wonderful conversation. I recently talked with someone on Facebook about the same thing. I am Norwegian by background and I grew up in the Midwest. I thought I had no prejudices. However, I grew up with people who looked and acted like me. When I was growing up, I said things like “stingy as a Jew”; “I don’t even see anyone’s color;” and, “wash your face so you don’t look like a dirty Indian.” I said these things without thinking because they were said around me. Now, I cannot believe I said those things. I am in my 70’s. Every day we grow and can learn.

Louisa: As you spoke, I can guarantee that some people felt uncomfortable with what you were saying. We should not be beating ourselves up. We have the time to change.

Donna: It can be very painful.

Marie: That discomfort is what moves us to create connections. Being open is important-- being open to learning. We may need to question what we think and what we learned as children.

Donna: Thank you.

Aleasa: One of the things I love to do is speak to people who are older than me. They have had the opportunity to see many things. They have seen change. You mentioned your age. You have chosen your moment of enlightenment. I commend you for wanting to be the difference and be the change. This is how we begin to feed that moment of awakening. Your statement alone was courageous and empowers others to confront their biases.

Donna: Thank you.

Sommer: Hi everyone. You are all so inspiring. There is something that happens with people in safe spaces- you can feel it through the phone or on a Twitter chat. What is the next way we can interact with you? What are you doing next?

Aleasa: I work with homeless children who have food allergies. I want to bring compassion into my work with food allergy and anaphylaxis. There is not enough compassion. There is bullying- children with allergies are excluded. There is loss of life, high cost expenses, etc. One way to deal with these problems is through compassion. There are lots of jokes on TV about people having allergies. We need to address this. I am grateful to Marie for all she has done. Now the compassion movement is expanding into the community of people living with life-threatening allergic disease. We are speaking with families and health care providers. Compassion continues to grow as a movement.

Marie: We are taking our #CompassionConvos and planning live events. One goal is to work on compassion in politics- e.g. the Presidential campaigns. We want to work with youth and first-time voters to create safe spaces and dialog. We want to take #CompassionConvos to communities so we can inspire others to challenge their biases and take compassionate action. We are weaving together #CompassionConvos with stories and action. How do you take what you learn into your community to do something? When we talk about taking compassionate action, we are talking about being uncomfortable, getting out of our comfort zone where perhaps we have a bias. We want people to take that place of discomfort and use their stories to involve others. We also will continue having conversations online. We are excited to collaborate with the Charter for Compassion International and the Compassion Games. It takes all of us working together.

Louisa: I am thinking that people may feel that they cannot do this. Think about when a child falls and hurts his knee. You have empathy because you are mirroring that emotion and you want to help. It is not about being hard on yourself. It is just the willingness to show up, even if it is a post on Facebook or coming to an event, or, just listening. We want to engage with the Charter for Compassion and the Compassion Games to bring people together to share.



Reed: Please remember you can share your reflections on this call by signing up for the Compassion Games World Interfaith Harmony Week coopetition and posting your reflections on the global Compassion Report Map.

We will send out the notes and audio for today’s call in a couple of days. These calls are always free to you, but our operation does cost money to keep going – so we appreciate your financial support. Please donate.

We have two more calls in our weeklong series marking World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Tomorrow at 9 a.m. Pacific Time, 12 p.m. Eastern, please join us for a call with John Esposito, American professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. John is a major contributor to the Charter’s Islamophobia Guide Book. He will give us deep insights into the Muslim world, and help us look beyond the cartoonish depiction of Muslims we often see in mainstream media and reflected in political rhetoric.

On Friday at 7 a.m. Pacific Time, 10 a.m. Eastern, join us for an update on refugees. We’ll hear from Reham Hamoui of the Salaam Cultural Museum and John Forseth of Lutheran Community Services about waves of migration – particularly in the Middle East and Europe but also around the world. We’ll hear about what we can do to help.

I want to thank our speakers for their insights and the hard work they are doing. And, thank you everyone for listening.

Donna: I just want to say one more thing if that’s okay. I’ve been an ER trauma nurse for many years. Somehow, we’ve lost our connectedness with what life is about. Young people have such little faith in themselves that they do not value their own lives. We have senseless deaths. I want to help direct my family into meaningful dialog.

Reed: We’ll make sure to share contact information in the notes for this call.

Marie: Aleasa is local to you in Atlanta, but feel free to contact me as well.

Louisa: Also, please go to the Facebook Group for Compassion Convos and request to be added.

Reed: Okay. Thank you everyone for joining us. Good bye.


Resources Recommended by the Presenters

#CompassionConvos: A Call to Action: Bringing People Together to Create Individual and Systemic Change

Find us on Facebook at Compassion Convos
Twitter: #compassionconvos
Email: #compassionconvos: Compassion Convos


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On Neutrality
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Obama Bans Juvenile Solitary Confinement in Federal Prison

Turning Islamophobia into Informed Compassion

Being Muslim In Minnesota

Why Some Muslims Are Optimistic In The Face Of Islamophobia
This poignant video offers a glimpse into what it's like to be Muslim

What Happened After A Blindfolded Muslim Asked London For Hugs Hint: It was a lovefest.

Social Justice
The Question of Race: An interview between jon powell and Krista Tippett

This is a tragic story of austerity and indifference that will haunt the people of Flint for decades to come

How Flint's Crisis Could Help Fight An Injustice Plaguing Minority Communities

This is a tragic story of austerity and indifference that will haunt the people of Flint for decades to come


Forgiveness & Reconciliation
Forgiving Well Leads to Living Well

The Parent Circle
Drawn together by grief, Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members in the conflict strive for open dialogue rather than revenge.

Social Justice and the Arts:
Exhibits ponder faith, gender in Black Lives Matter era

America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, Hardcover – January 19, 2016 by Jim Wallis
Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence--from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman
Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It. [Indiebound|Amazon] by Roman Krznaric Visit Krznaric's Empathy Library to find more resources, books and film, on empathy.
Watch a short animated film that explains the difference between empathy and sympathy.  It's called The Power of Empathy and is produced by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts.

Bias Test
Harvard University -Project Implicit- Implicit Association Test

To learn more about creating safe spaces for difficult conversations within your organization and company, please contact us.

To join a live-streaming conversation on Blab, follow #CompassionConvos hashtag on Twitter.