Karen Armstrong, founder of the Charter for Compassion, offered the keynote address at Compassion Action Network's "Compassionate Seattle" event April 24, 2010.
Thanks to the leadership of the Compassionate Action Network (CAN), the Seattle City Council has affirmed the global Charter for Compassion and declared Seattle to be the world’s first “Compassionate City”.
On April 24, 2010, a unique gathering took place in Seattle, organized by CAN. The day-long event, held at the Center for Spiritual Living, was called Compassionate Seattle and was rich with high points, offering a wealth of keynote speakers, panelists, performers, and non-profits with a rich and varied view of compassion’s many forms.
Most significantly, Richard Conlin, Seattle City Council president, was on hand to make the official declaration and preside over Seattle’s proclamation of itself as a “compassionate city,” a resolution which will provide an action framework for future decision-making and legislation. The entire assembly participated in the reading of the declaration, including these thrilling words:
WHEREAS, we acknowledge our role and responsibility to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our city and through our educational efforts and deliberate actions; and WHEREAS, a Compassionate City deepens the quality and the extent to which its citizens embrace compassionate action in caring for its own neighbors; NOW, THEREFORE, be it proclaimed that the Mayor of Seattle and the Seattle City Council affirm the Charter for Compassion, declare Seattle a participant in the Ten Year Campaign for Compassionate Cities, and for the next ten years will establish April and October as compassionate action months in which our citizens, government and institutions work together to embrace and apply compassionate solutions and encourage community service to meet the needs of our families, friends, communities and neighbors.
On hand from her home in England was the brilliant and generous Karen Armstrong, scholar and author in religious studies, recipient of the TED Prize, and founder of the Charter for Compassion.
In her work, Armstrong saw that the Golden Rule—“do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – lies clearly at the heart of all wisdom traditions. (The Dalai Lama calls this “enlightened self-interest.”) When support from TED gave her the opportunity to fulfill a wish, Armstrong used it to proclaim compassion as the working basis for getting along in the world.
Says the Charter, in part: “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.”
Other keynote speakers included Courtney Martin, writer, teacher and co-founder of the Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy, who moderated the panel on “Compassion in Business, Institutions and Society,” and James O’Dea, a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences and former director of the Washington Office of Amnesty International, who presided over “Thriving Communities and Caring for the Earth.”
It was a day marked by generosity. The Center for Spiritual Living donated the space. A legion of volunteers provided services, helping with set-up, media, registration, event flow, you name it. The organizing committee contributed long hours over many months. The effort was spearheaded by Jon Ramer, Executive Director of CAN, and Emily Hine, social entrepreneur and Senior Director of Seeds of Compassion. Rev. Guo Cheen and others played key leadership roles. CAN is an offspring of the Seeds of Compassion organization that brought His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Seattle in April 2008.
Both Jon and Emily agree that the most important aspect of the day was the launch of the ten-year campaign to make Seattle a compassionate city in accord with the principles of the Charter. “The joint proclamation with the city is highly relevant as it sets the tone for larger policy conversations that will impact our community over the next decade,” says Emily.
According to Jon, “The entire process demonstrated that we are capable of making something happen and seeing the results of our collective efforts…Organizing the event itself was very much a spiritual practice. We often let go of expectations and assumptions, recognizing that whatever was going to happen was the only thing that could happen.”
Emily, herself a Dharma practitioner, feels that Buddhists have a big role to play in the compassion movement. “We can’t really be aware of our impact on others unless we are aware of our own actions. Since meditation and mindfulness are a large part of Buddhist practice along with doing no harm and so many other virtues, the connection and contribution to the compassion movement is pretty clear to me. Not to mention the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, or the partnership between Buddhist meditators and neuroscientists that is definitely helping our western culture get the ‘proof’ needed to support the practices of mindfulness and compassion.”
Perhaps the best thing about the Compassionate Seattle event was the all-pervasive sense of happiness and joy, expressed in so many ways – the glowing energy of the emcees, the warmth and wit of Karen Armstrong, the playful camaraderie of the Interfaith Amigos (Pastor Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon, Sheikh Jamal Rahman), and the splendid performances that capped the day. After his short delay getting to the stage, the crowd laughed when actor Gbenga Akinnagbe said he had gotten a bit confused “being from New York and not used to so many open, kind people.” Later, many people cried when Playback Theater powerfully re-told the story of a man who had lost his child, reminding us all of our shared vulnerability and tender hearts. And my personal favorite brought delight to many: the Mt. Zion Baptist Church Liturgical Dancers performing to a piece of music that wove together the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum and the hymn Amazing Grace.
As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, "Developing a kind heart… is for everyone who considers himself or herself to be a member of the human family, and thus sees things in accordingly large terms.” Creating a truly compassionate Seattle is a big vision. We need grace, blessing, some old-fashioned luck and a lot of elbow grease. Come be a part of it, please.