From the efforts of Judy Lee and Woody Trautman, this is the beginning of greater Toledo's year of compassion. The Trautmans, through the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio, which they co-chair, are leading the campaign for Toledo and northwest Ohio to be designated a compassionate community by Compassionate Action Network International, with a formal ceremony to become signers of the Charter for Compassion to be at Toledo's Government Center April 25.
"It joins us with what has become an international movement of realizing the deeper meaning of compassion as brought to the foreground by Karen Armstrong," said Ms. Trautman. Karen Armstrong is an author and religion scholar who, when she received a $100,000 award and the promise of having "a wish for a better world" granted by the TED organization, in 2008 asked that TED work with her to make a Charter of Compassion "that would be written by leading thinkers from a variety of major faiths and would restore compassion to the heart of religious and moral life," as Ms. Armstrong put it in her book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. The charter was unveiled in November 2009.
Compassionate city recognition began with Seattle signing the charter in 2010. In March 2011, greater Toledo became a candidate for the honor. "From the very beginning we've recognized that it's not just Toledo, it's our bedroom communities, and also we want to reach out to the schools," Ms. Trautman said.
Government recognition is part of the process for compassionate city eligibility. "We now have pieces of very nice paper from the City Council and [former Mayor Michael Bell] and from the Lucas County Commissioners," Ms. Trautman said.
"The important part of the papers," Mr. Trautman said, "is that they indicate compassion to be a component of decision making" in the bodies' work.
"It would just be fluff otherwise," Ms. Trautman said. She will be seeking endorsements of compassion from other local governments.
Achieving compassionate city designation "is a realization by the community that this is a useful construct," Ms. Trautman said. If a person or organization makes compassion "a life practice, it's difficult, it's hard work, but it also brings out really good results."
When she gave the keynote speech at the United Muslim Association of Toledo unity dinner Oct. 13, she said, "Compassion is a word that's derived from Latin and it means 'to suffer with.' It's not pity. It's not mere sympathy. It's like empathy, but it's a deep enough co-suffering that it motivates action, doing something to relieve the suffering of others."
Mr. Trautman said, "One has to distinguish between compassion as writing a check to the local food bank and yourself, individually, every one of us, saying hello to somebody on the street and doing it in return continuously, daily. That's a culture change; the other is indifferent."
The compassion movement is about more than getting a positive label for the region, Ms. Trautman said. In her Oct. 13 speech, she said, "On one hand, designation as a compassionate community is like any other designation: tree city, flag city. What makes a designation of compassionate community special is that it is not static. Of course it recognizes that we are indeed a compassionate community with many people and organizations doing amazing compassionate work. [But] designation is just the beginning."
Toledo's compassionate community campaign "is really grassroots. It's not top down," Ms. Trautman said. "Most of the campaigns were started by ordinary folks just like Woody and me. We're not politicians and we're not community leaders in the traditional sense; I mean, we have taken a leadership role in [the MultiFaith Council], but we're unpaid retirees who just are chasing a vision, and many of the city campaigns are like that."
The MultiFaith Council's "overall mission is, of course, to bring the diverse faith groups--as Woody says, all or none--together to find common ground and work for the community." Ms. Trautman said. "Not to agree always, but to be able to recognize that we do have common ground and that we can work together at least on certain issues, and so we've been doing that officially since 2003."
"I say mingle, chat, understand, and respect," Mr. Trautman said.
"This was originally Woody's vision," Ms. Trautman said. "He started it well before 2003; I came on board in 2002 and we ended up working so much together that we got married because we were spending all our time together anyway."
"I married my partner," Mr. Trautman said.
"And we had a wonderful interfaith wedding," Ms. Trautman, who is ordained as a Sufi cherag, or clergy member, said (both Ms. and Mr. Trautman are members of First Unitarian Church of Toledo; this reporter is affiliated as a community minister there). "We had eight faiths marry us, so we couldn't ever get divorced. We'd never want to, but we couldn't because we couldn't untie all those knots."
Just after the signing ceremony uniting greater Toledo with the Charter for Compassion, a convention for compassionate action and collaboration will take place at the SeaGate Centre, 401 Jefferson Ave. "We will invite all of these different constellations of compassionate work to meet together to show the public what they do and also to attend some little talks, workshops, receptions in adjacent rooms to the hall that we'll be in to get them together and rubbing elbows and seeing where they might draw some connections" Ms. Trautman said. "The following days, the Saturday and Sunday, to work around people's individual sabbaths, we will publicize all kinds of volunteer opportunities so that this can reach an individual level." Then the 13th annual MultiFaith Banquet, at Lourdes University's Franciscan Center, will end the weekend. "I think it's going to be a wonderful way to publish to the world this is what we're calling ourselves now."