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Our View: Charter provides idealistic frame for city business

September 21, 2017 GMT

On Monday, the Rochester City Council officially adopted the international “Charter for Compassion.”

What, exactly, does that mean?

From a practical standpoint, perhaps not much. There will be no legal consequences if our elected officials or business leaders make decisions that conflict with the principles of the charter, an idea introduced by author Karen Armstrong that became an organized effort in 2009. We’ll link to the charter’s full text online.

The document calls on people “to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.”

Skeptics -- and there will be naysayers -- will see the charter as toothless and the city’s adoption of it as a meaningless symbolic gesture to appease a small but vocal group of pie-in-the-sky idealists. But the world has always needed idealists who, by the mere act of seeking the seemingly impossible, make the world a better place.

By adopting the Charter for Compassion, the council is calling upon its current and future leaders to hold themselves and their city to a higher standard, to utter the uncomfortable questions that might otherwise have gone unasked and unanswered as Rochester grows and changes.

Questions like, how can we help working-class people afford to not just live here, but thrive here?

How can we better serve and protect the children and adults who are experiencing homelessness, abuse, racial prejudice or hunger?

What resources do our public schools need to serve Rochester’s increasingly diverse student population -- and what values, if any, should our schools attempt to espouse?

The list could go on and on, but the point is that the Charter for Compassion could and should help frame the discussions of almost every topic that comes before our elected officials, including public transit, school curricula, city parks, utility rate increases, property taxes, residential development, environmental protection and zoning regulations.

Of course, the charter’s long-term impact will be determined not by elected officials, but by individuals who choose to be guided by it. Compassion can trickle down from the top, but its impact is far greater when it grows up organically in neighborhoods, schools, churches and community organizations.

And ultimately, compassion begins at home, with parents who raise children to understand that the “Golden Rule” isn’t merely a tired phrase from a Sunday school class. Kids who see their parents showing compassion for others -- regardless of their race, religion, politics, age or sexual identity -- will grow up to do the same.

That’s why the charter asks us “to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures, to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and

religious diversity, to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings — even those regarded as enemies.”

In today’s stunningly polarized political climate, that’s a message we all can take to heart.