Carbondale explores ways to show compassion

By Sharon Wittke

Carbondale is kind, caring and concerned.

This is the message organizers want to spread during “11 Days of Compassion,” a community-wide exploration of the human instinct to aid others who are suffering.

The multi-venue initiative, which begins May 1, is patterned after “11 Days of Peace,” an event held in September that commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11.


NonViolent Carbondale and other community organizations joined to plan activities and events that promote the concept of compassion, said Diana Brawley Sussman, director of the Carbondale Public Library and the initiative’s lead organizer.

“During the ‘11 Days for Peace’ in September, we felt our community really focused on where we came from in the past decade,” she said. “With the ‘11 Days for Compassion,’ we want to continue the dialogue, but not with 9/11 as the focal point.”

She said her inspiration for the initiative came from a mask exhibit at Quigley Hall during the faculty strike and Occupy Carbondale demonstrations last fall.

Brawley Sussman said she was struck by how the masks reflected different emotions people were expressing during the discordant time in the city.

She said she thought about the ways people appear to others during disagreements.

“How does our face, our ‘mask,’ communicate to others? What happens when we put ourselves in another person’s shoes, in their skins and look through their eyes?” Brawley Sussman said.

With the Quigley Hall mask exhibit in her mind, she said she applied for grant money from the Fetzer Institute and the American Library Association to fund the “11 Days of Compassion” initiative.


She said she used the Charter for Compassion, a document created in 2008 by multi-faith and multi-national religious leaders that exemplifies the Golden Rule, as a blueprint for the initiative.

The Rev. Bill Sasso, minister of the Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship and an organizer for the event, said the Golden Rule is a tenet of every major religion in the world.

The idea for the charter stemmed from the book, “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,” by theologian Karen Armstrong, he said.

Sasso said the Carbondale Interfaith Council formally endorsed the Charter for Compassion, which he said brings Carbondale a step closer to its goal being designated as compassionate city.

Mask-making is the central theme of the initiative, Brawley Sussman said, and residents can create masks at library-sponsored workshops or decorate a mask at home.

“I wanted to use an art activity as a means to ease tensions in the community,” she said.

Completed masks will be displayed at the library, Town Square Market, Varsity Center for the Arts, Carbondale Civic Center and Dayshift, Brawley Sussman said.

Chris McKinley, owner of Dayshift, said she and Brawley Sussman spoke often about collaborating on projects that connect art with the community.

She said she’ll hang the finished masks on her storefront window and expand the display to her interior walls if necessary.

“I believe in the philosophy of the ‘11 Days of Compassion’ and what’s behind it,” McKinley said.

Brawley Sussman said other community organizations will be sponsoring speakers, exhibits, workshops, music and vigils throughout the city during the first week and a half of May.

“We hope the activities help people think about ways they can start constructive dialogues and to be proactive when there’s potential for confrontation — to think ahead instead of reacting,” she said.