Community Ideas

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The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 48 Number 3 
Summer 2015

Community Ideas: Compassionate Communities 

Gina Cardazone (ginamaria@gmail.com), JBS International  

compassionsmall.jpgWhat would happen if people came together in communities all over the world with the explicit goal of making their communities more compassionate? What if these compassionate communities were joined in networks that enabled communities to learn from each other? What if community psychologists helped people channel this compassion into coordinated action to address a community's most pressing needs? 

This is already happening. Charter for Compassion has transformed the vision of one woman into a network of active members throughout the world, dedicated to creating Compassionate Communities. In 2008, faced with a world fraught with religious tension, writer and former nun Karen Armstrong received the TED prize and made a wish that people come together to draft a Charter for Compassion. This Charter would restore what she described as the core of all major world religious traditions. Quoting Confucius, Buddha, Rabbi Hillel, and St. Augustine, Armstrong made a strong case for the proposal that compassion is the core of religiosity.  

As it turned out, the Charter for Compassion would grow into something much bigger than even Armstrong envisioned. Inspired by Armstrong, an organization called Charter for Compassion formed and began forging a network of Compassionate Communities throughout the globe. That network now includes towns, villages, and - beginning recently with Botswana - even entire countries. 

Marilyn Turkovich and Barbara Kerr of the Charter for Compassion took the time to speak with me about their work. They stated that the designation of Compassionate Community is not a seal of approval. It simply means that there is a group of dedicated people working to bring compassion into their community. 

As stated in the Charter itself, compassion cannot merely be felt, it must motivate us to work tirelessly to help others. Those who have signed the Charter and wish to take further action are encouraged to create a plan, rooted in collaboration and respect for diversity, to identify and address community needs. In the last year, in partnership with community psychologists, the organization has strengthened their capacity to support collective action through the formation of the Charter Tool Box. 

The Charter Tool Box (CTB) is the product of an intensive and ongoing process among Charter members to develop a resource that can be used by communities to help them create Action Plans that can foster real change. As its name indicates, it draws from the Community Tool Box, which has over 7000 pages of resources. It is one example of a way that CTB content is being tailored to different community and organizational contexts. 

The development of the CTB is also an example of how the Charter for Compassion builds on existing efforts and resources to strengthen the ability of people to improve their communities. As Marilyn and Barbara said, "We don't want to reinvent the wheel, we want to strengthen it." At every opportunity, the Charter for Compassion stresses inclusivity and connection to existing efforts. They're aware that every community context is different, and they spent 6 months (and made countless Google Docs) in a collaborative effort to begin building the CTB into something that is flexible enough to be adapted to radically different community contexts, but also useful enough to engender real community change. 

Barbara writes, "The idea is for this to be truly a grassroots effort...Our job is to offer a suggested structure, procedures and the contents of the CTB.  We also encourage the local group to bring in partners to their initiative.  These partners become local and international partners." Now, the Compassionate Communities Initiative shares the CTB with any community that signs the charter and wants to take action, as well as groups that have already developed action plans. New and established groups are using the Tool Box and also providing feedback as to how it can be further improved. 

In addition to providing a structure for taking compassionate action, the Charter for Compassion provides numerous ways for Compassionate Communities to connect with and learn from each other. Three times a month, they host Maestro calls. This platform allows them to feature guest speakers who share their ideas with up to a thousand people, and has a feature that enables participants to gather into breakout groups to get into more in depth discussions. They also use newsletters, social media, and other means to connect people and communities with each other throughout the world. 

For those interested in joining this global effort, Marilyn and Barbara suggest checking to see if there is already a Charter for Compassion group in your community. If so, join it! If not, there are many ways to start one, and many ways to define community. Practitioners can use their contact with community partners to begin their efforts, while community psychologists in academic settings can consider building Compassionate Universities. 

For more information, see the website http://charterforcompassion.org/