What does a compassionate city look like? A delegation of Winnipeggers travelled to Louisville, Kentucky this past November to find out.
Louisville was named International Compassionate City of the Year in 2012 by Compassion Action Network, a network of compassionate cities and towns around the globe.
The Winnipeg visitors – there were 11 – were invited by Louisville mayor, Greg Fischer, to meet with committee members of “Charter of Compassion – Louisville” and to look at the compassionate activities they’ve spearheaded, including their “Partnership for a Compassionate Louisville” a collaboration between diverse sectors of the community.
The compassionate cities movement was initiated by British author and former nun, Karen Armstrong, who, five years ago on February 28, 2008, won the TED prize and expressed her wish to have the TED community help her develop and promote a Charter for Compassion. She invited people of all nations, all faiths, all backgrounds, to submit their own words for inclusion in the Charter.
Using a unique web-based decision making platform, thousands of people from over 100 countries added their voice to the writing of the Charter. In a six-week period, thousands of submissions were entered which were then read and commented upon by over 150,000 visitors. These contributions were then incorporated into the final document.
The Charter For Compassion document is meant to transcend religious, ideological, and national differences. Supported by leading thinkers from many traditions, the Charter activates the Golden Rule around the world. You can read it here:
Gerry Labossiere, former Auditor for the City of Winnipeg, businessman and Winnipeg Foundation board member, organized the Louisville visit. He says he was struck by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s no-nonsense attitude when it comes to compassion.
“The mayor…his background…was very much the business world,” Labossiere explains. “And when he ran for office two years ago, his three pillars were lifelong learning, health in its entirety and compassion. His campaign manager suggested to him, ‘By the way, that third one, maybe sort of downplay that one during the campaign and don’t go on the compassion route. And the mayor said, ‘No, that’s who I am and that’s how I was raised.’ And you could feel it from a genuine perspective.”
“Mayor Fischer talks about compassion in a very normal, systems way,” says Labossiere. “And seeing it through a man like that, who happens to be mayor of Louisville, connected with me in a very big way.”
Susan Lewis, United Way of Winnipeg’s President since 1985, was also on the trip. “What impressed me,” says Lewis, “was how compassion that I believe some of us hold inside could be expressed so openly and transparently in the context of other parts of our life.”
The Winnipeg group not only got a close look at some of the compassionate programs and policies developed by Louisville residents, they also had the opportunity to attend an Interfaith Festival called ‘Birth 2012 – Compassionate Louisville Event, Birthing a New Era of Compassion’ that offered ’24 hours of Community Compassion & Celebration’.
“The unifying factor of everybody that was involved in this was a commitment to the freedom to engage in more compassionate action,” says Winnipeg lawyer David Newman who was part of the Winnipeg delegation.
“Every religion that was there, every business that was represented, the medical profession and individuals like us, looking at how do you seriously within every organization create the freedom and the power and the support necessary to do compassionate action,” says Newman.
The Winnipeg observers point out the need for all sectors to get involved in this movement, such as social services, the legal profession, the health care system, businesses, religious organizations, just to name a few.
Newman says religious organizations that separate doctrine from faith are in a good position to create a community built on compassion.
“Let’s focus on what we all want to do together and that’s compassionate action.” says Newman. “I felt so empowered coming back because this crossed all boundaries. And the impediment to us moving forward are the systemized structures that we human beings have created. And they’re failing us.”
Learning from what they experienced in Louisville, some from the Winnipeg contingent were motivated to take action upon their return to Winnipeg.
“My experience in Louisville inspired me to believe we could do something similar in Winnipeg,” says Dr. Perry Kimelman, a dentist and certified Peace Ambassador who was on the trip. “We could coalesce a group of well intentioned people in creating a cultural shift in this city…we would inspire others to come forward and join a mission surrounding an idea, which is compassion.”
Winnipeg Elder Mae Louise Campbell was also invited to Louisville where she presented the city’s Mayor and Council with a sacred hand made peace drum, sharing the traditional Ojibway teachings of how women can unite in drumming to bring peace. In return, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer presented the key to his city to the Manitoba Elder.
For Elder Mae Louise, who has worked tirelessly to bring compassion to those in need, from her Grandmother Moon Lodge in St.Laurent, Manitoba, and more recently in Winnipeg’s inner city, she believes those working in this area have a big hill to climb.
“When you talk about compassion, you’ve got a long ways to go in Winnipeg before you can call Winnipeg a compassionate city,” she says.
Others, such as Winnipeg journalist, Karen Toole, agree. “We can’t fool around with compassion,” says Toole, who has written extensively on religion and spirituality.
“I think if we use that word, we’re really going to have to flesh it out in ways that have a visible reality that includes everybody, that no one feels excluded and that’s going to be hard work to do that,” explains Toole. “Because the minute we start to use that word, somebody is going to say, ‘I don’t feel it, I don’t know it, it’s not my faith, I don’t like that word.'”
“I think Winnipeg has a lot of examples of incredible compassion in action,” says Toole. “We almost need to do…an environmental scan of where is compassion alive and well in this city. Where are the projects? Where are the faces of compassion? How do we see it in action? And I think we need to look at, where is our capacity, where do we need it, and how much courage do we have to put it into action?”
Everyone involved in this Winnipeg delegation to Louisville agreed that any compassionate movement created in Winnipeg would require objectives and benchmarks to measure success. Many pointed to the corrosive and devastating issue of growing poverty in Winnipeg and the need to implement policies and programs geared toward reducing poverty in a realistic time frame.
“We’re here to work on the how. That’s why there is so many of us here,” says Labossiere. “I do think there is opportunity to collectively move this forward. How can we help move this system and start integrating and moving in this direction…in working from the heart? That’s part of the shift that’s required on a world wide basis and the urgency.”
The Winnipeggers who traveled to Louisville included, Sister Lesley Sacouman, co-founder of Rossbrook House, Daniel Lussier, CEO of the Catholic Healthcare Corporation of Manitoba, Elder Mae Louise Campbell, Jim August, CEO of The Forks North Portage Partnership, David Newman, Julie Turenne-Maynard of JTM Consulting and Project Manager of the St. Boniface Cathedral Project, Perry Kimelman, Susan Lewis, Sister Norma McDonald, Director of Spiritual Services at the Universite de Saint-Boniface, Micheline St. Hilaire of the Catholic Health Corporation of Manitoba, and Gerry Labossiere.
You can watch a clip of Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer speaking about compassion by clicking on this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgOe9FIOL2M
TOWARD A COMPASSIONATE WINNIPEG
Recently, a delegation from Winnipeg traveled to Louisville, Kentucky — in November 2012 and again in May 2013 — to learn how city leaders there began Compassionate Louisville. From schools to government, healthcare to policing, Louisville is proving that a lasting, positive impact is created when compassion informs the day-to-day life of a city.
Community News Commons encourages anyone to imagine what Winnipeg could become if we followed the lead of Louisville and made compassion an integral part of our community life.
Click on the links below to read other CNC articles on creating a compassionate Winnipeg:
Friendship blossoms for Sikhs, Mennonites in North Kildonan
Knowing more about others creates greater compassion
Compassion helps take back the streets
Golden Rule unites world religions
The hard work of living a compassionate life
Winnipeg encouraged to adopt Golden Rule
Delegation seeks compassion, will hear Dalai Lama speak
Winnipeg delegation looks to compassionate Louisville
Forum on compassion asks: Does Winnipeg care?
Is Winnipeg a compassionate city?
You can also type the word ‘compassion’ into the search bar at the top of this page to access more stories on this subject.