Compassionate Ridgefield is very proud of the progress we have been making toward a townwide signing of the Charter for Compassion in May 2020.

We have not done this alone — we have had input from many members of our community and have been inspired by many acts of compassion that occur regularly in our beloved town. That said, we’d like to share more about our origins, motivation, and mission to the larger Ridgefield community.

It seems important to stress that this is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) initiated by a group of Ridgefield residents who became very concerned about the high rates of anxiety, depression, bullying, and stress among our youth, the incivility and hostility on all social media platforms, as well as the increase in hate vandalism throughout town. While we know these are problems being experienced all over the country, we feel deeply that Ridgefield is our town, our village and that, together, we can do something to “shift” the culture.

Why compassion? Because we know that living in a compassionate community improves lives. And life is hard. For all of us. We all struggle with stress, pain, illness, sorrow, rejection, or disappointment — if not today, tomorrow. But if we live amidst friends and neighbors who strive to understand, empathize and/or respond compassionately, our burdens will be lighter and easier to bear. Compassion can be a very real buffer for stress. Scientific research is pretty clear that compassion improves one’s mental health, self-esteem, resilience, relationships, productivity, academic progress, physical health and the bottom lines of businesses and economic communities. Moreover, compassion can be learned. Indeed, when others treat us with respect, empathy, understanding or acceptance, we often feel, in turn, kinder and more loving to the next person. Our ultimate goal is to create a Ridgefield culture and social environment where every person — no matter their age, ethnicity, gender, religion, political or sexual orientation — feels welcome and respected by fellow Ridgefielders. Compassionate responsiveness can change our world, one person and one act at a time.

So what does it mean to be compassionate?

• It means having a deep benevolent acceptance of another’s humanity. Which means responding to others with empathy and respect.

• It means understanding that everyone we meet has struggles and sorrows about which we know nothing. Which means we try to treat people kindly.

• It means accepting that others will view the world (or the problem or the solution) differently because they have had different experiences, a different history and have walked in different shoes. Which means we try to listen to understand the other’s viewpoint. We respect the other’s right to have a different viewpoint. We do not have to agree. We can agree to disagree, politely.

• It means treating others the way we would like to be treated.

• It means valuing diversity — of all kinds. Understanding that diversity, throughout history, has brought us change and new possibilities, such as great feats in engineering and new forms of literature, music, art and political change. Which means we are open to new ideas and perspectives, even if that makes us uncomfortable.

• It means accepting that others will sometimes treat us unkindly or in hurtful ways. Which means that we try to understand and accept the person behind the behavior but not the behavior itself.

• Being compassionate does not mean accepting or tolerating unacceptable, unkind, or illegal behavior. Kindness does not beget leniency or lack of accountability. Which means we maintain healthy and safe boundaries, limits and expectations. When these are violated, we take appropriate action.

To these ends, we invite all Ridgefielders who would like to work toward a more compassionate community to join us on Sunday, Oct. 20, 3 to 6 p.m., at Scotts Ridge Middle School. We promise you an afternoon that is fun, inspiring and rewarding. Please RSVP to compassionproject06877@gmail.com.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to speak to anyone on the leadership team at any time.

The Executive Board of Compassionate Ridgefield includes:Noelle Aaronson, Amanda Bergen, Suzanne Brennan, Kim Carone, Kerry Ann Ducey, Richard P. Hastings, Christopher Kukk, Carol Mahlstedt, Rudy Marconi, Wendy McLean, Martha Evans Morris, Denise Qualey, Deborah Rundlett, Tim Salem, Sara Sved, Jan Triani, Kelly Turberfield, and Sander Vanacker.