A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to attend the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice’s Annual Faith-Labor Breakfast in Madison. The keynote speaker, Dalia Mogahed, co-author of, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, spoke eloquently of the world’s need to expand the compassion footprint. She made a fitting comparison to the world’s need to decrease the carbon footprint in order to slow global warming. While no individual can have a tremendous impact on global warming, collectively each of us can take small actions every day, from turning off our lights when not in use to riding our bikes instead of driving, in order to reduce our personal carbon footprint. Collectively, all of those actions can make a difference in fighting global warming.
Similarly, Ms. Mogahed explained, no single individual can bring about world peace, let alone solve the major social issues plaguing our community, such as poverty, inadequate education and discrimination. Yet, each of us can expand our compassion footprint each day by actions both great and small, in a wide variety of ways that are within our reach. As she explained in this article, Muslim medical students in Los Angeles, expanded their compassion footprint, by establishing the, “University Muslim Medical Association Community Clinic (UMMA), a full service free medical center started by Muslim medical students in South Los Angeles, one of America’s most underserved and impoverished communities.”
Indeed, President Obama has set up a platform to enable every American to expand our compassion footprint through the United We Serve campaign. Through this web site, anyone can easily find a way to serve their own community and improve it.
While these organized approaches are certainly important, it is also worth remembering that small acts of kindness and compassion, from shoveling an elderly neighbor’s sidewalk, to visiting an ill friend or relative in the hospital, all collectively expand the compassion footprint, and make the world a better place to live.
Since a part of me is naturally cynical, I asked Ms. Mogahed about how to confront the reality that many in our world will choose not to be compassionate and instead may work in ways that make life harder for those who need compassion most. Just like global warming cannot be stopped merely by each of us taking small actions, but indeed, requires systemic reform of the way we produce power and energy in our world, the social ills of our world, cannot be completely solved by small individual acts of compassion. This does not render those acts of compassion useless or unnecessary. Rather, those individual acts of compassion can help build a movement to demand systemic change in the way our society approaches social ills such as poverty, inadequate education and discrimination.
Since systems change requires inspiring action, we need leaders who will inspire us to be more compassionate on an individual and collective basis. One good example currently inspiring action is Rev. Alex Gee, who recently convened a community meeting which I attended along with hundreds of others to work together to end racism and close the achievement gap in Madison. I look forward to working with Rev. Gee and many others to address our community’s ills and as I urged those in attendance to seize the educational opportunity to reform the Madison School District’s discipline policies to,
End zero tolerance discipline policies fueling the school to prison pipeline and establish zero tolerance for failure to educate.