Compassion Speech at 2011 Festival of Faiths - Nov. 7, 2011

Thank you so much for having me here this morning. I’ve been involved in the Festival of Faiths for 16 years now – I was there right at the start. I’ve seen this festival grow – from its roots in the Cathedral renovation to the premier event that it is today.

This festival is quintessentially Louisville – it draws on a rich local tradition of faith, peacemaking and tolerance.

As you know, it was just about a block from where we meet this morning that Thomas Merton had his famous epiphany.

There on the corner by the Seelbach, Merton looked at the hustling, bustling city and was overcome with an realization that is still being discussed and celebrated all over the world.

He suddenly felt like he could see the people around him the way God saw them.

“If only we could see each other that way all the time,” he said, “there would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed.”

I included a reference to that epiphany in my inaugural address because it fit so closely with the way I view Louisville – we are one city, one community, one family. We are all one!

In that speech, I outlined three things that our community needs if we’re going to grow and thrive – and I’ve talked about them every day since.

· We need to become a city of lifelong learners.

· We need to become a healthier city.

· And we need to become an even more compassionate city.

It’s that third goal that surprises people. My background is business – manufacturing and venture capital. So people expect me to talk about creating a fit and educated workforce. But compassion? That surprises them!

People helping people -- that’s been a driving force for me, my whole life. I got into politics partly to awaken each citizen’s awareness that he or she could make the world a better place.

At first, I struggled about how to put this into words – how to talk about it without sounding corny. I clearly remember the conversation in which Christy Brown helped me articulate it. She said: “compassion! It’s all about compassion!”

Christy may have been more prescient than she realized. I’m not sure she knew then that a “compassion movement” was being born in the United States.

In 2008, Karen Armstrong – a well-known author and a former nun who has written several thoughtful books about religion -- won the “TED prize” to fund her plan to create a Charter of Compassion.

The charter begins by acknowledging that every religious, ethical or spiritual tradition has compassion at its core. And that encouraging kindness and discouraging cruelty – that’s something all good people have always agreed on.

Almost 80,000 have signed that charter online and a half-dozen cities have become Cities of Compassion by endorsing this document.

I am pleased to announce – this is my first big announcement of the morning! -- that the number of cities is about to grow. On Thursday, the Metro Council will approve the Charter, making Louisville the second largest city in America to take this step!

Ari Cowan, the co-director of the International Institute for Compassionate Cities, says that we’re also being seriously considered – I think it’s fair to say we’re a front-runner! – as one of the three international “Model Cities of Compassion.”

Ari has described Louisville as a “hotbed” of compassion. Spalding University and the University of Louisville, for example, may become two of the first three universities designated as colleges of compassion.

We know this isn’t something new. This is a reflection of what Louisville already is. From the outreach work of the Muhammad Ali Center to the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church (USA), from our rich Catholic traditions and organizations to our relatively new Hindu Temple and Islamic mosque – we are a city of both faith and tolerance.

Let’s look at one example.

Two years ago, the Festival of Faiths focused on water – arguably the world’s most pressing problem. Today, bad water kills more people than war, AIDS, and cancer combined. Even those who HAVE clean water sometimes pay dearly for it. In many parts of the developing world, girls routinely are pulled out of school because their family needs them to make the daily trek for water – an average of 6 miles on foot.

When the Festival of Faiths decided to focus on water, Edge Outreach was a well-kept Louisville secret. They were a small nonprofit that trained ordinary people to install or repair water purification kits in developing countries.

Edge Outreach got involved in the Festival that year – and has been involved ever since. They have a table here today!

Partly because of the connections they made that year, however, they’ve grown five-fold since then. Business classes at Bellarmine and U of L have helped them with their business model.

And when the Haiti earthquake happened, the Edge Outreach staff arrived to find their porch full of Louisvillians who knew this was an organization that would help.

Edge Outreach sent more than 30 volunteers to Haiti and was there for six weeks. This reflects on the compassion of the volunteers, but also the people who wrote checks for supplies and the employers all over the city who let people off work on short notice.

One of the groups that donated was a group of Pakistani-American physicians. A few months later, this group returned to Edge Outreach.

The doctors were desperate to find a way to help their home country, which was suffering from devastating flooding.

Think about this: In a time that some parts of the world and the nation are in turmoil about religious differences, this group of Muslim doctors came to a Christian organization to work in partnership. They asked Edge Outreach if they would train them in water purification. And the Edge Outreach staff said: “Of course, we will. You are our friends and neighbors.”

Three Pakistani-American physicians traveled to Pakistan and trained 140 local people to use a chlorine generator, not unlike the one that was invented in Louisville in the 1800s. In 3 weeks, 100,000 people had clean drinking water.

Now, members of that group are preparing to return to Pakistan to field-test 50 new units – improved purifiers that were developed in the Edge Outreach office by volunteer engineers.

What’s important about the Edge story is that it illustrates how Louisville’s compassion runs deep – and can change the world – but we must work to build the partnerships that allow this compassion to flourish.

What if the doctors had not realized that Edge Outreach existed? How long would it have taken those 100,000 people to get clean water?

THIS is what I mean by making Louisville a more compassionate city!

We have wonderful organizations here – from the Society for the Prevention of Aggressiveness and Violence among Adolescents – SPAVA – to our active locovore movement. Locovores aren’t elite foodies. They work every day to bring fresh local food to neighborhoods previously served by fast-food restaurants and gas stations.

Throughout Louisville, people are looking for ways to work together in compassion!

This brings me to the second major announcement this morning. As part of our compassion efforts, Louisville is creating a new “Partnership for a Compassionate City,” which will be chaired by Tom Williams. We also have a brand new logo – designed by Doe Anderson. I understand each of you have a business card with the logo on it!

The fleur de lis in a heart! What a perfect emblem for our city! Please show it to your friends, help us get the word out!

Tom is a remarkable person. Earlier this year, Interfaith Paths to Peace named him the city’s “peacemaker of the year” – the sort of award, they noted, that does not often go to lawyers.

It was Tom’s hard work that got the historic marker to commemorate Merton’s epiphany. He also helped get a marker to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have a dream” speech in Washington.

He is a proven leader – from serving as president of the Louisville Bar Association, to serving as Chairman of the Board of the Leadership Louisville Center, to serving on the boards of Interfaith Paths to Peace and the Thomas Merton Institute.

Tom is the right person to help us on this new venture – the Partnership for a Compassionate City!

One of the efforts that I know we’ll be asking his help on – as I am asking for help from all of you – is our Give-A-Day week in April, an official Kentucky Derby Festival Event.

We want to prove we’re the most compassionate city in the world by having thousands – dare I say tens of thousands – of volunteers give a day or part of a day to make Louisville a better place. Learn more at This is an easy way to put our compassion into action!

Working together, in partnership, I’m confident that we can elevate and expand our understanding and help us become a beacon of hope and compassion to people all over the world, and definitely within Louisville!

Thank you!