Mayor and monk playing Ping-Pong. | Photo by Melissa Chipman

Mayor and monk playing Ping-Pong before the announcement that the Dalai Lama will return in 2017. | Photo by Melissa Chipman

In his inaugural address in 2011, Mayor Greg Fischer laid out the three tent posts of his governance: commitments to lifelong learning, health and compassion. But why compassion?

In the address, he said: “Compassion means everyone, everyone, has a chance to succeed, to realize their potential. No matter their background, their color, their orientation, or their nationality, we are all the same in the eyes of our Creator.”

Mayor Fischer explained in an interview recently that “compassion” was a word that had long been one of his guiding principles since he was an entrepreneur and that he’d used it as a “frame of reference” for his decisions and choices.

He said that compassion “gives people the chance to let their full potential flourish” and that it is a driving force in all the things that Louisville is best at: caring, hospitality, interdependence. What’s more, he added, compassion was at the heart of all of Thomas Merton’s teachings, in Muhammad Ali’s humanitarianism.

Fischer has actively created citywide campaigns to keep compassion at the city’s front of mind starting with the first day of volunteering in January 2011, which attracted more than 800 volunteers. That event has grown into the Mayor’s Give a Day Week. In April of 2016, it attracted some 175,000 volunteers and their acts of compassion, which the mayor’s office calls a world record.

Fischer said that his push for volunteerism is deliberate. “Volunteerism is easiest to associate with compassion,” he said. But acts of charity and volunteering aren’t the only way to exercise compassion in your daily life, he said. “Basic acts of kindness. Practicing the Golden Rule. Be a stand-in adult role model. Practice self-care and compassion.”

Louisville’s focus on compassion has garnered national attention. Time Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor and other national news organizations featured Louisville’s Compassionate School Movement this fall. Mindful Magazine did a profile of Louisville called “Building a city that lives on love.” In April 2017, the Dalai Lama will return to Louisville at the mayor’s invitation to check up on the city’s progress toward creating a more compassionate city. The Charter for Compassion International has named Louisville as its Model Compassionate City for five years in a row.

In light of the current president-elect’s very public calls to register Muslims, deport undocumented immigrants, build walls and cease refugee resettlement in America, a number of cities nationwide have reaffirmed their statuses as “sanctuary cities,” refusing to use municipal funds or resources to enforce immigration laws. Mayor Fischer stopped short of saying that he intended to follow suit. He said that there is no official registry for “sanctuary cities,” and indeed, the term had no precise legal meaning. But he promised there would be “no rounding up of people” in Louisville.

“We will always be a welcoming city,” the mayor said. “We’re trying to grow our population.” Indeed, immigrants have accounted for nearly half of the metro’s population increase from 2000 to 2012, according to the New American Economy fact sheet.

“It’s important for our kids to know what an international community looks like,” he said.

Fischer acknowledged that “people feel targeted” and that it’s important that nonmarginalized people in Louisville let these communities know that “we support them.”