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Example 1: Starting Where You Are: Sowing the Seeds of Community – A Story

The founding of Compassionate Louisville illustrates some of the principles of mindfulness applied to community life. In 2012, a year after Louisville, Kentucky, became a Compassionate City, a group of individuals representing many organizations spent several retreat days creating the mission, values, and vision of Compassionate Louisville. Each person was mindful of how they were living the mission and values, and shared these ideas during the session. Twelve values were eventually named. It was through mindful awareness that the group chose the values that best reflected the newly-formed community.

This group saw itself as seeding a community of greater mindfulness. Its vision statement imagined “a community and world becoming more and more compassionate.” As a collective and as individuals, members reaffirmed the mission “to champion and nurture the growth of compassion.” This articulation of Compassionate Louisville’s mission and values was made possible through strong facilitation of the group and committed leaders intent on bringing the vision of a more compassionate city to life. These leaders became the roots of an ever-growing tree of committed volunteers whose goal was for a more compassionate city to actually come about.

But mindfulness was integral to the process. Without mindfulness, the group would not have reached a level of understanding that encouraged both leadership and consensus.

Through the growing public awareness of this initiative, the group then encouraged other citizens to discover how they might answer the question, “How can compassion best operate in Louisville?” Mindfully building a city of compassion means not giving up when compassion appears to fall short. Conflict is not ignored but recognized, for through conflict comes the opportunity to grow compassionately. Within dynamic, flexible structures, resolutions are identified and initiated. These resolutions have the principles of the community at their foundations.

To this day, the Coordinating Circle of Compassionate Louisville continues to be an organic, dynamic, and evolving community whose key objective is to mindfully observe how compassion is manifesting in the City and to search for ways to facilitate compassion’s presence.

Example 2: Critical Thinking and Compassionate Policies: A Story

Mindful groups and mindful community builders willingly, if not easily, acknowledge where potential conflicts exist. Either the group as a whole or a subset works to identify the conflict and then create potential resolutions. The subset of the group transparently reports its findings and suggestions to the group.

In one case, a group of women who were military veterans created a support group. This group was open to all women who had served in the U.S. military. Over time, they discovered that some of the women carried deep emotional wounds. Their wounds sometimes came to the surface and triggered conflict among group members. The leaders wanted to create a stronger, inclusive community; but they were unsure how to mindfully address the needs of these women in ways that were compassionate and that also empowered them to continue to participate in the group.

With the help of an outside facilitator, guidelines for compassion within the group were defined and put into place. The myth of compassion as being “nice” in ways that potentially created co-dependent behavior was debunked. Two additional items were placed on the application to join, specifying the responsibilities of the member and the community. The group leaders also connected with mental health care providers willing to provide emergency assistance if necessary. In practice, both redefining compassionate actions and the creation of policies helped create a safe environment.

The same group of leaders attended a workshop to improve communication and conflict management skills. As both leaders and members became more adept in listening and responding with compassion, there were fewer escalations of conflict that stemmed from an individual member’s woundedness. Over time, the meetings became known as places of safety.

A valuable lesson from this story is that mindfulness within this group led to the naming of a conflict. The director realized that conflict could not be resolved within the group without external assistance. In addition, what was learned in mindful communication training was shared with the group at large. Modifications in communication styles were an important step in repairing group structure, and stimulated more mindful communication. Instead of focusing on individual conflicts, the group was able to focus on the collective whole. Building upon the values and mission of the organization, the group strengthened the safe and supportive environment for which the organization is now known.

The group incorporated several of Wheatley’s suggestions in resolving conflict. The group of women supported what they created through its evolution. They acted responsibly by hiring a trained facilitator and engaging in open, mindful conversation. The focus was on what was working and on sharing the wisdom of group members. Instead of ostracizing those that were viewed as disruptive, they created a paradigm of forgiveness and love.

Example 3: Taking a Long, Loving Look at the Real: A Story of Community Support

Several years ago, community groups in Louisville, Kentucky, began to address the need to provide housing for approximately 360 military veterans who were homeless in the city. Named Rx: Housing Veterans, the resulting project was headed by the local Coalition for the Homeless and by Louisville Metro Government. More than 15 organizations within the community mindfully came together to create housing strategies.

Using combined government and private resources, the group developed plans that included not only providing housing for displaced veterans but also supplying other help, including securing employment, medical care, and help for addictions. The plan was to have the number of veterans experiencing homelessness at functionally zero by the end of the next year.

The mindfulness of this group of community leaders mirrored the mindfulness in the community. Differences were respected; doors were opened; conflicts were addressed. Through transparency, they created forums where groups not only helped design and implement the programs but were invited to question activities.

Instead of blaming or shaming the group that was experiencing homelessness, the group took a long, loving look at the current situation. They identified the factors that contributed to homelessness of veterans. The group clarified what other needs might be addressed. So, instead of creating a one-size-fits-all solution, a community of support was created to compassionately help veterans integrate in the community at large.

This example shows that mindful community building is mirrored in communication with a listening ear and a welcoming heart. Listening to one another and inviting everyone’s participation resulted in a non-hierarchical approach for formal and informal meetings alike. These mindful leaders created a structured and safe environment for interactions to flourish and connections to thrive. Within this environment, both individuals and the community as a whole could more easily work with a spirit of collaboration. Such collaboration brings us to a new place of understanding – the common ground.

Example 4: Objectively Finding Common Ground: A Story

Two groups of individuals, who worked for the same company but in different divisions, had the common goal of ridding an area of invasive plants. They were tasked with working together to discover the best, most appropriate solution. One group wanted to use herbicides, while the other was vehemently against their use. But instead of each group holding firm on its “right” way to accomplish the desired outcome, both groups approached problem resolution mindfully. They agreed to be open to what the other group was saying.

The process used to resolve the problem was Contemplative Dialogue. In using this process, both sides intentionally named and discussed their beliefs and assumptions. Each made a commitment to listen to what the other side said and to ask questions in nonthreatening ways. All present also agreed to maintain an attitude of mindfulness and to return to mindfulness when gently reminded. Both groups, in addition, were mindful that they weren’t enemies; rather, both wanted the same outcome – a decrease in unwanted plant life. The best pathway to that outcome was the only difference.

One person in the group suggested using herbicides to eradicate the invasive plants; but after the initial application, the area would be seeded with hardy native plants, thus limiting the ability of the invasive plants to regrow. Neither group had independently thought of this solution. The consensus of the group was that this was the best plan of action. As a result, trust increased between the two diverse groups and within the community as a whole. Mindfulness here created the opportunity to reach consensus and gain common ground.

The next time a solution needed to be found, the groups came together not as adversaries but as cooperative members of the same organization. Trust and respect for different ideas had grown. Through mindfulness, all recognized they were all part of the same community, and came to act with the community’s general welfare in mind.

This approach to resolving differences can be applied in many other community settings, in particular to those where active conflict is present.