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Compassion was the theme Friday at One Government Center and the SeaGate Convention Centre.
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins, City Council President Paula Hicks-Hudson, and Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak all signed a ceremonial copy of the Charter of Compassion, joining a global list of 35 other compassionate cities. And more than 200 other cities are actively working toward that goal.
About 50 people, including city councilmen and members of the compassionate community team that brought the event to downtown Toledo, attended the ceremony, held in the lobby outside the county commissioners’ chamber.
From noon until 8 p.m. Friday, the convention center was the site of a compassion networking convention, where 89 tables were arranged in the large hall, each giving display space to an organization that works with or promotes compassion; some in the community, others promoting compassion around the world. People representing care, education, faith, food, health, safe living, and other causes and issues were networking with other exhibitors and the public, giving information about their work, volunteer opportunities, and other ways to be involved in compassion-oriented activities.
At the signing ceremony, Judy Lee Trautman, co-chair with her husband, Woody, of the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio, said the organizations would “have a community conversation about collaborative solutions.” The Trautmans were the chief organizers of the compassionate community team for Toledo.
In another convention center room, panel discussions and presentations took place to highlight work in and support for addiction and mental health, education, housing, hunger, and other concerns.
The Charter for Compassion began with the TED Talks organization granting its award winning-author Karen Armstrong “a wish for a better world” in 2008; she asked for a charter that “would restore compassion to the heart of religious and moral life,” as she put it in her book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. Ideas for the charter came from the book, and religion scholars turned it into a document. Then the compassionate city movement started.
Jeanine Diller, director of the Center for Religious Understanding at the University of Toledo and a professor of philosophy and religion, said she told Ms. Armstrong about Toledo becoming a compassionate community when they met at an academic conference in November. “She was delighted,” Ms. Diller said. “She gave me this big smile and said, ‘Isn’t that great.’ ”
At the Government Center charter signing, Mayor Collins said, “Defining the city of Toledo as a community of compassion embraces everything that’s good about Toledo.”
He tied the city’s compassion to the “you will do better in Toledo” slogan, which “will be our welcoming sign,” he said.
Recognition of Toledo’s compassion “is not about politics,” he said. “This is about humanity. This is about setting the stage where Toledo is recognized as a community that embraces diversity.”
Councilman Hicks-Hudson accepted a framed copy of the charter reproduced from one written in calligraphy. She hopes to hang it in the City Council chambers. She pledged that the council will “put that lens of compassion” into its legislation and duties.
Commissioner Wozniak said, “As we move forward, we don’t care what a person’s race might be, not their religion, nor the condition of well-being that they might have. What we care about is that they all learn a little bit more from each other as we embrace every new opportunity.”
Being a compassionate community “is not an award,” Mrs. Trautman said. “It’s a long-range commitment to using compassionate action to resolve collaboratively community issues.”
At the compassionate networking convention, Lynne Aseltyne was at a table to represent Double ARC, an organization sponsored by Sisters of Notre Dame Toledo Province that serves children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. She said that she was speaking to “some new people, organizations that we already know, and reuniting with a lot of organizations that we’ve worked with before.” Double ARC’s presence at the convention “means that we’re able to get the word out about prevention, which is very important, and to let others in the community know that there is hope for their child,” she said.
Joel Marcovitch, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo, while standing at his organization’s table, said, “Look around the room. You've got a couple of hundred people who are rooted in this community who at the central core — some of them paid professionals, some of them volunteer-led — are about making sure that the lives of others are better, and advocate for those that are in need.”
Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Romules Durant, while waiting to take part in a panel discussion on education, spoke about how compassion can change bullying behavior.
“Kids today are taking [bullying] much more sensitively than they had done in the past, and due to lack of compassion,” he said, “kids take it too far. Compassion causes a person to step up and support another child or another friend or whomever, and at the same time compassion [is needed] in the same way with adults, to step up to say, ‘That child’s just not soft; that child just doesn’t respond to certain words as others do.’ ”
The convention also offered health-related screenings and information; a time for youth including those in the Toledo Public Schools program Young Men and Young Women of Excellence, United Muslim Association Youth, and others to meet one another; space for prayers for Muslims at the convention center; and a scheduled performance by the musical group The Gathering from First Unitarian Church of Toledo.
One of the panel discussions was on how media can support a compassionate community. Jeff Smith of WTVG-TV, Channel 13, was moderator, and Blade Executive Editor Kurt Franck was one of the panelists. During that discussion it was noted, with some emphasis on the irony, that journalists assigned to cover the morning signing ceremony were reassigned to report on a shooting.
After the signing ceremony, Mayor Collins showed a reporter some items in his office that he says help in his compassionate decision making. One is a small rock he has from a visit to the Birkenau concentration camp in Poland; coincidentally, he had spoken about Birkenau with youth at Toledo Public Library Thursday and Friday as part of Holocaust Remembrance Day activities. He also has a U.S. flag that flew over Hanoi, artwork made by an autistic child, and other items “descriptive of my real feelings.”
Mayor Collins said that when he is making a difficult decision, “I ask myself what is good public policy. If I don’t have a solidified answer that this is good public policy, then I shouldn’t do it.” “Good public policy” and compassion are close companions for the mayor.