San Antonio Express-News, 27 January, 2023

SAN ANTONIO — Mayor Ron Nirenberg went to the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C., last week with a gift — or at least the promise of a gift — from San Antonio to its fellow cities.

Though he’ll deliver the gift at a June gathering, it will be nonetheless timeless and enduring. Compassion comes wrapped in such adjectives.

It will arrive in a six-part series of videos created in San Antonio to promote the teaching and practice of compassion in cities throughout the country.

It’s part of a new Compassionate USA campaign that was San Antonio-inspired.

The video shorts will be ready to use as needed. They will come in handy whether a city is trying to work through a divisive issue or facing a natural or man-made disaster.

Produced in collaboration with the mayor’s office and several local and national partners, the shorts will be created by the San Antonio peaceCENTER, which has been the catalyst of the city’s recognition as a compassionate city.

The almost 30-year-old grassroots organization is now under the auspices of the Alamo Colleges and headquartered at Northwest Vista College, where it will be melded into its existing peace and conflict studies.

Northwest Vista’s interdisciplinary coursework encompasses war and peace, nonviolent philosophy, conflict resolution, trauma recovery and restorative justice.

Nirenberg, who serves as chair of the USCM’s Center for Compassion and Equitable Cities, introduced the Compassionate USA campaign in a talk that landed between speeches by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

“Whether our daily decisions are about isolation and critical mental health services, or pandemic impact recovery and mass shootings, or policies and equitable budgets and issues of state,” Nirenberg said, “fundamental to the necessary shift in all our work is the moral imperative and the skill development of compassion.”

Research tells us that compassion is in our DNA, Nirenberg added.

“It is the antidote to hate, to extremism, to our violence,” he added, “to the ethic of reciprocity.”

Like any skill, the Golden Rule, or treating others as we’d like to be treated, needs to be practiced.

Ann Helmke, the city’s faith-based liaison, said Uvalde and other mass shootings no doubt were on the mayors’ minds.

Indeed, the Compassionate USA initiative will be dedicated to the victims of the nation’s school shootings.

Some of the nation’s cities already have programs that encourage or teach compassion, even if they don’t use that specific word.

But San Antonio’s work in the compassion field runs deep and has been institutionalized. It might have begun with faith and community-based leaders who worked on ending gang violence, quelling potential racial tensions and encouraging dialogue on divisive topics.

The common denominators: peace and mutual respect.

Helmke also traces the new Compassionate USA to Nirenberg’s first day in office in June 2017, when he signed the Charter of Compassion that linked the city to the International Campaign for Compassionate Cities.

It’s a global movement built on the ethic of reciprocity, also known as the Golden Rule.

In 2017, City Council also passed a resolution that established Compassionate San Antonio, which has grown into programs such as Compassion Integrity Training and the Compassion Institute, a yearlong, college-level curriculum in continual use.

Helmke described Compassionate USA as “a giant step.”

And how is compassion practiced? On the individual level, it’s in every rosary recited and in every candlelight vigil.

Helmke was there for the mayor’s announcement last week and was still startled with the reaction.

Surgeon General Murthy’s address counseled mayors to build “social infrastructure” and individual connections that promote compassion.

“Kindness matters,” he said. It’s a stirring address worth listening to on C-SPAN.

From Helmke’s vantage point, “Everyone was on the same page.”

At 3 p.m. Sunday, San Antonians get another chance to nurture and practice compassion at the 18th annual Blessing of the Peacemakers at Northwest Vista’s Palmetto Center for the Arts.

It will recognize its three founders Rosalyn Falcón Collier, Susan Ives and Helmke for their work in compiling and authoring a nonviolence curriculum.

The event also will mark the United Nations 64-day Season for Nonviolence, a period that spans two tragic events, the assassinations of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

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