Interfaithfully Speaking: What is a compassionate city?

By Rev. Jan Chase of the Claremont Interfaith Council

I had never heard of a compassionate city until I attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City in 2015. The parliament is like stepping into heaven on earth. People from religious and spiritual traditions from all over the earth gather to learn from one another, to build understanding around similarities, and to learn from their differences. At this parliament, 26 interfaith friends from Claremont, Upland and Pomona presented a program on the many ways to do interfaith work in a community.

While we were there, we heard a lot about compassionate cities and the Charter for Compassion. We learned every city has its own issues and its own way of becoming a compassionate city. We were excited about the potential of creating compassionate cities with these values up and down our valley.

Compassionate cites are: a city in which compassion frames it decisions; a community where people and organizations come out of their silos to work together and to support each other’s work rather than competing with each other; a community where faith centers work together to live and spread the values of the golden rule, (Christian) “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” (Jewish) “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman,” (Muslim) “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself,” (Buddhist) “Hurt not others with that which pains yourself,” (Hindu) “This is the sum of duty: do naught to others that which if done to thee would cause pain,” (Baha’i) “Blessed is he who prefers his brother before himself,” and (Zoroastrian) “That nature only is good when it shall not do unto another whatever is not good for its own self.”

On returning to the Pomona Valley, we met once a month to become more familiar with compassion by reading the book “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,” by Karen Armstrong, author of the Charter for Compassion. Individuals, communities, and cities can affirm the Charter for Compassion at no charge. This document can be found at charterforcompassion.org/charter. It ends with this profound statement: “We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous, and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological, and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.”

We invited leaders from other compassion cities to share their journey with us, including Compassionate Redlands, Compassionate Rancho Cucamonga, and Compassionate Huntington Beach. These cities’ grassroots movements had worked with city leaders to proclaim themselves compassionate cities. We reached out to the mayors of Pomona and Claremont and found it takes time to develop a consciousness that will keep a community committed to this heavy-duty concept.

After two-and-a-half years of study, meetings and working with our city government and school board, Pomona was officially proclaimed Compassionate Pomona on April 2, 2018.

More and more organizations were drawn to this work as we created conferences and promoted compassion everywhere we could. We worked with other compassionate cities throughout the state to have California become the first compassionate state in the U.S. on September 10, 2021.

As we evolve, we find more and more leaders in our cities recognize the power of being a compassionate city. The wellbeing of our residents is in our hearts, and we look for and find ways to help those suffering, whether it be our students or adults suffering the stress of loss during the Covid crisis, poverty, homelessness, trauma, or racial injustice and prejudice.

In Pomona we have started restorative practice circles to give residents opportunities to share deeply without judgment; SKY breathwork and wellness classes for youth and adults to use as tools for stress; monthly conversations with our police department to build bridges of understanding; and an annual kindness carnival to celebrate lives filled with caring for each other.

Both Claremont and La Verne are currently exploring the possibility of becoming compassionate cities. They will each unfold in their own unique way, and they will lift the consciousness of their cities in amazing ways.

Claremont’s Interfaith Council has been working on this possibility and now invites residents to learn more. For more info email pastorlaramartin@gmail.com.

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