I write you today not only as the Executive Director of the Chamber and Visitors Center, but as a mom and community member. Recently, I was approached by some dear friends asking me to enter into a public conversation. A conversation that I feel is so important, we all need to talk about it. The conversation is about compassion. I never thought of compassion as being a community discussion until I saw what La Crosse was doing with their “Compassion Project” earlier this year. It was moving to see the community of La Crosse come together to take care of one another. Tomah has this same opportunity in front of us now as it is one of the rare moments in time when we are presented with an opportunity to define what the tone of community will be. We can be a community of compassion.
When we talk about compassion, we are really talking about being individual change agents. We are identifying a need to extend human kindness to another person and taking the personal responsibility to show care to others. My personal experiences with compassion have shaped my life. In high school, I vividly remember being terrorized by a group of girls. I was terrified of the gym locker room. I was scared of walking down the halls alone. More than once I had been pushed into a wall. One time in particular, I remember three girls pushing my head into a cement wall leaving a bruise on the back of my head bigger than a golf ball. I survived high school because of the compassion of some dear friends and teachers who helped me keep my head up. These friends would often accompany me down the halls so that I wasn’t alone.
We have all had moments in our lives when we’ve needed a helpful hand extended to us…perhaps you had an ailing parent, rough childhood, financial stresses or physical illnesses. Compassion is that helping hand or little bit of encouragement that pulled you through. In the coming months, you will hear and see community members talking about what compassion looks like. There will be people opening up and sharing their stories. There will be change agents inviting you to share in the discussion.
This is already starting in the school system with “Rachel’s Challenge”, which was inspired by a young woman killed at Columbine. Not sure what schools and compassion have to do with you? Employers who are trying to attract new employees are cognizant of the school system, quality of education and teachers that we have here. The first thing people consider when looking at a community is the schools. Compassion is helping someone who is new to town adjust. Compassion is teaching your children to be kind to the new kid in class. Compassion is a call we adults must answer so we can lead our children by example.
I share my stories only as a way to start the conversation of compassion and to show my fellow community members that we all have struggles and we can all persevere. I share my stories out of forgiveness so that someone else will have the bravery to share their story and forgive someone else. I share my stories so that someone else can see there is hope beyond fear.
I urge you to watch for the upcoming opportunities to join in this conversation. I invite you to learn more about this initiative. I urge you to answer this call. Where can you find opportunity in your daily life to show kindness to someone else? How are you able to encourage someone? I promise you this: Showing compassion towards someone else will not be hard, but it will change lives and, collectively, our community.
Often I look at my school aged children and hope not only that they have someone to walk them down the halls if they are scared, but that they will grow to be the people who will hold someone else’s hand when needed. Compassion changes the world. It starts with me and it starts with you. Let us each take this opportunity to be a part of this powerful force hope, kindness and forgiveness. Let’s do this for our community and let’s do this for our children.