When British author Karen Armstrong first called for creation of a Charter for Compassion in 2008, she probably didn’t imagine it becoming a global competition. But this year, from Sept. 11 to Sept. 21, individuals, organizations, cities and states will be participating in the very first Compassion Games.
Background about the charter which is centred on the principle of the Golden Rule, and the idea of the Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest was presented at the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) conference in Toronto in August. Sande Hart, who has been named chief compassion officer for California-which has signed onto the charter-explained to conference participants that Seattle was the first city to declare itself a city of compassion in 2010. Louisville, Kentucky, followed suit in 2011.
Mayor Greg Fischer challenged Louisville citizens to perform 55,000 acts of service during one week in April. To his delight, more than 90,000 acts were reported, including packaging 33,570 meals for needy children, 9,000 volunteers picking up litter, 3,200 books donated and 950 blood donations. On the first anniversary of the city’s signing of the charter, Fischer declared to a crowd of about 500 that Louisville is “the most compassionate city in the world,” until proven otherwise. That’s when Jon Ramer, an organizer of Compassionate Seattle, stood up and said, “You’re on.”
“And so the Compassion Games were born,” said Hart, who was in the crowd that day.
Fischer acknowledged at the time that it is a friendly competition. “It’s not something obviously that’s a race that you want to beat people in, but we encourage people to catch up with us,” he said.
One of the people attending Hart’s Toronto workshop asked if compassion, a natural and generous impulse, should be turned into a competition or a game. “We want to change the culture. It is a game. It is fun,” Hart answered. “That’s why we only play this for 11 days out of the year.”
She added, “It lifts the consciousness. It’s an educational opportunity. It’s an opportunity for people to question ‘Do I have to be told this?’ ”
The Sept. dates were chosen because in the U.S., Sept. 11 is a national day of service and remembrance, said Hart’s co-presenter Rebecca Tobias, who is on the advisory board of the women’s interfaith organization Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope (SARAH), which Hart founded. The games run until Sept. 21, which is the International Day for Peace.
“You can talk about building a culture of peace, but is always amorphous,” said Tobias. “Here’s a way to get to know other people who are like-minded and who are willing to roll up their sleeves and live a culture of peace. You get to know your neighbours…so you can begin to work together in other processes and programs throughout the year until you play again.”
The Charter for Compassion has now been signed by more than 98,000 organizations and individuals, including Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. The diocesan council and numerous parishes in the Anglican diocese of British Columbia also have affirmed the charter.