I began my career in public education in 1972. For two decades, as a teacher and principal, I was able to prioritize the importance of growing compassionate school citizens. Institutional compassion permeated the teaching of literature, social studies and writing. In the 1990’s our nation’s educational priorities shifted and by early 2000, “No Child Left Behind” had turned students into mere data points on standardized tests. Institutional compassion was left behind!

According to Webster, compassion is “the sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress, together with a desire to alleviate it.” Current culture is one of divisiveness, distrust and degradation. Sympathetic alleviation of human anguish is being challenged. Human value is undermined by oppressive structures of colonialism and white supremacy. We must reinvigorate efforts toward respect and care inside every institution so participants are valued rather that discounted.

Systemic change requires intentional efforts within our institutions of work, education, politics and recreation. Such change depends on communities of people who will interrupt acts of hate and injustice with authentic compassion. Therein lies the beauty of the Bertha Crosley Ball Center for Compassion at USM: It offers concrete strategies for taking compassionate action while employing those same strategies within the university culture.

The Center for Compassion is a leader in developing institutional compassion here in Maine. The center offers workshops, for-credit courses and public events that provide resources for both personal growth and systemic change.

Please support this organization and attend its public events. We need thriving compassion in our daily culture.

Allen Shank

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