Nuggets From Marilyn Turkovich's Call
Posted by Rahul Brown on Aug 23, 2021
Building compassion in communities may be vital to the survival of our species, according to Marilyn Turkovich. Compassionate communities more likely thrive, science informs us. Turkovich directs the Charter for Compassion International (CCI), which advances Karen Armstrong’s Charter of Compassion, a movement founded on “the fundamental principles of universal justice and respect” underlying the world’s religions and wisdom traditions. She has designed hundreds of curricula, training materials, and workshops to instill compassion rooted in local needs and knowledge. For Marilyn, “compassion is acting in solidarity with other people." Often “our own personal wisdom gets in the way of really being effective,” since compassionate action often flows from compassionate questioning and compassionate listening to those most proximate to an issue.
Below are some of the nuggets from the call that stood out for me ...
- 400 cities are starting the Charter for Compassion. Takes 3- 5 years to get started. A lot of the work is in communication, and connecting partners. Her focus changes daily. Another main leg of the work is education. We’re hard-wired for compassion, but we don’t know how to be compassionate. They introduce vetted programs into school. Think Equal is a program out of the UK designed for kids from 3 – 6 as a curriculum to cities. So they introduce Think Equal to partner cities.
- Cities that are ready for the charter typically have a grassroots group but also a champion in gov’t. Mayor Fisher from Louisville KY introduced the charter to the Mayor’s Conference. Yet a mayor cannot often carry this through, which means that grassroots people often have to be working in tandem. In Louisville, the grassroots folks built committees and starting working across the spectrum to build momentum and help people understand how compassion was changing the situation. It takes years of dialogue for citizens to find advocates and clarify what they want to accomplish. Las Vegas, Dallas, and Houston are some cities where they have close coordination between compassion team and the mayor. Netherlands was the first country to get vigorously started with the charter. Now many 54 countries participate.
- Getting Democrats and Republicans to agree on compassion is not smooth waters in all communities. Often intense discussion ensues, and sometimes it gets put on hold. The first step is getting clear on what compassion means. Many think it’s a soft skill, but compassion is based on action. For instance, looking at the issue of food security, there’s a myriad ways that Fayetteville, Arkansas that this is put into action. They ultimately understand that compassion is what engaged citizenry is all about. Then its possible for politicians to start talk about cooperation. The charter has not yet been successful in some places, but they continue working and slowly moving this forward.
- As a child, she had the false certainty that her immediate area reflects the whole rest of the world. The whole area she lived in was pretty diverse such that many languages were spoken in the neighborhood. Neighbors used to live as if they were in their old country. Neighbors exchanged things. She got to witness kindness and compassion as a regular form of life. She’d offer neighbors tea & lemonade. If there was a problem in the neighborhood, Marilyn’s grandmother would often be at the center of the solution. That principle has been replicated in every community where immigrants arrive.
- Her transition from instruction and learned happened because a lot of her work was in teacher training. Some programs required outreach to the community. A collaboration with University of Wisconsin lead to curriculum development, that lead to a connection with the State Dept in South Asia. This lead to curriculums on Nepal & Sri Lanka, eventually Japan. They wanted to help students how to understand a culture through its etymology, its words. Each of the books she wrote were adventures of their own, often with colleagues who had strong cultural knowledge of the subject area. She ultimately got asked ot collaborate on curriculum for compassion training.
- When Karen Armstrong is asked “What is a compassionate city?” she said its an ‘uncomfortable city’ where many problems are getting grappled with. To get the people who are not at the table to be part of the conversation is key to progress.
- When Marilyn met Karen, there was no Charter for Compassion—just Seeds of Compassion. It was at a big event in Vancouver. Marilyn was involved with a group called ‘Voices’ that was working with artists. This started the Compassionate Action Network, that became the home for Charter for Compassion. Karen gave a TED talk, where the prize funded the start. Then it went to Fetzer, and Compassionate Action Network, and ultimately its own organization. That’s when the deeper association with Karen happened. She came in because I was involved with Voices, and building curriculums, just for education, not just for schools. Eventually she became the Executive Director.
- The challenges in the work are few, but intense. One is challenge ourselves on organization structure. David Korten has a book called ‘Change the Story, Change the Future’. Changing the story is hard. Another challenge is finding the funding to keep it all going. Finally, its succession planning. How do you de-centralize while still keeping the network answerable and accountable to the mission and values.
- Her inner practice is a bit unorthodox. She practices mindfulness and reads a lot, but music is deeply in her core. Her family has been really involved in music for a long time, and it was an integral part of her growing up. She often looks forward to ‘travelling the world’ through music of different regions.
Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!