Karen Armstrong’s quote that begins, “A Compassionate City is an uncomfortable city” is the fastest way to dispel the gross misunderstanding that compassion is a warm, soft, and consolatory expression and a City of Compassion is just a nice flag to wave over City Hall. It also states that declaring a city one of compassion is not the beginning or the end, but the process.
When done right, compassion can be the most painstaking and difficult expression known to man. This is the courage and commitment any one individual needs to be prepared for when taking the first step into a city campaign. Compassion is a verb, a muscle, a virtue and a value. Compassion has healing qualities for everyone involved and it’s tough work. Compassion means we are willing to take an honest look into the face of the suffering with a willingness not to divert one’s eyes, and ignore one’s self-interest, privilege and comfort to alleviate that suffering. A Compassionate City begins with compassionate people.
The simple and logical design of the local government working in concert with the stakeholders just makes sense. It’s when you add the unifying goal of advancing a culture of compassion in a city is when it becomes a miracle. The Charter for Compassion becomes the bonding agent between each and every citizen, creating an ecosystem that sustains itself. We return to the era where dialogue solves problems, where citizens replace consumers, and where strangers realize they are relatives.
When a city commits fully to applying the philosophy of the four nearly impeccable paragraphs of the Charter for Compassion to all of it’s decision and policy making, it is committing to shifting the narrative from one of competition to cooperation, hate to curiosity, distrust to trust, and greed to generosity.
Science has shown us that a thought that travels through the brain over and over again literally carves a pathway, making that thought (or habit) a natural response and tendency, thus, the neuro-pathway. When a city becomes fully immersed in the narrative of compassion, where our children are exposed to compassionate curriculum and then experience those virtues out in their community, they will be part of a communal neuro-pathway ™ of that city.
The Charter For Compassion organization was birthed out of the necessity to host all that began to emerge in this movement resembling a phenomenon. Along the way Partners showed up. At some point in the evolution they self organized and sprouted into sectors, and those sectors grew to cover all of society’s modalities. They became the nutrients of the City campaigns, while at the same time forming a biological community among themselves, like interacting organisms collaborating in creative and new ways to accomplish more compassionate solutions. Now we have a movement.
By nature, a City of Compassion organizing group operates with holistic vision and a 360-degree view of their community as well as the entire Charter global network. No other manmade organism on the planet operates in such elegant fashion, while galvanizing a critical mass to usher in a new era where “compassion is the clear, luminous and dynamic force for our polarized world.” This movement is returning us to our human nature to care for one another and co-create a world that works for everyone.
A City of Compassion is a city that functions as a singular compassionate entity, yet is an appendix of the larger body of the Charter network, strengthening the whole. It is inclusive, generous and invites everyone to the table. It requires diversity of skills, passions, treasures and resources that now belong to everyone as the tools to accomplish the unifying goals. It honors those already doing the good work, is sensitive to root causes of the interrelated problems and seeks solutions that are also interrelated and mutually supportive. The collection of stakeholders, (educators, civil servants, police and first responders, non-profits, interfaith council, chamber of commerce, and caring citizens) then, write up a plan of action to work towards these solutions in the manner of collective impact and intersectionality, and the Mayor and City approve it and declare their city a City of Compassion.
This movement was birthed out of a challenge, a compelling argument that compassion is the bottom line, ‘buck stops here solution to all of humankind’s internal and external problems. In fact, that’s the recipe for its success and resiliency. It requires personal responsibility. To make it easier, compassion happens to be inherent in all humans (both genders equally). Even Charles Darwin subscribed to the notion that it is necessary for our personal and communal survival. While he only once used the expression “Survival of the Fittest”, he often stated that “Survival is for the most adaptable and compassionate.”. Even then, it begs the question, “What does it mean to be fit?
Greed and ego are toxic to a healthy City of Compassion and unless everyone agrees to leave their ego and self-interest at the door, the nutrients will never reach the full body of this work and it will die. Nature cannot sustain itself with poisonous fertilizer.
It’s clearly time to reroute the neuro-pathway man has been traveling down over the centuries. We can return to the Agrarian age to see the fork in the road where we found ourselves buying into the belief that Earth is a commodity and we were separate from it, and ultimately one another, thrusting us away from a culture of partnership and into one of domination, consumerism, violence and nationalism. We forgot who we are and have been suffering ever since. Compassion reminds us who we are and is the antidote to the suffering. Returning to a place of connection, relationship and partnership is returning to a City of Compassion.
Director of Women and Girls
Charter for Compassion International