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Got Compassion?

Hi. I’m Walking Bob. I was walking toward Central Park after dropping some letters off at the downtown Post Office when I first saw him, standing tall and alone on the southeast corner of 3rd and C streets, holding a notebook. As I drew closer I thought, “Is he panhandling or trying to get me to sign a petition or join a movement? Should I just go a different way to avoid him or try to walk by when he’s talking with someone else?”

I decided to check it out for myself and the man simply asked me if I was willing to share my definition of compassion. No quick response came to me so I said, “Not right now,” and walked on, uncompassionately.

Fortunately for me, I came by later, wrote down my definition, and struck up a conversation with the man, who I learned was named David. I had the privilege of sharing breakfast with him a few days later and thought you should know what a fascinating man he is so that any of you who have avoided him in the past will take the chance to share your definition of compassion or just say hello and talk with David about compassion and what he describes as his “duty” to collect and share views on compassion.

He started this quest when he lived in Oakland after seeing a speech on compassion by Karen Armstrong, a former nun who created a “Charter for Compassion” based on the idea that “compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethnical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be trusted.” You can see the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJMm4RAwVLo

David spent four or five days getting the project started, but didn’t begin to think of it as his “duty in life” until he moved to Davis in May. He started the fairly regular routine of standing on the corner most of the day beginning in June and has collected over 3,300 signatures so far. You’ll often see him with a friend’s dog as he “dog-sits” while the friend eats or runs errands nearby. On Saturdays he takes the show on the road and wanders through the Farmers Market to get additional responses. On Sundays he has been attending gatherings at Davis Community Church, sharing his ideas and listening to others within classes held between services.

Using that street corner as his open air office, David is growing the idea of turning this all into a book. He has come across a photographer to capture moments of compassion in Davis, a legal contact to be sure he meets copyright and intellectual property guidelines, a proofreader, and a printer. Funding? “It’s yet to arrive. It will come.”

He is strongly connected to the local homeless community and wants to work not just on portraying the homeless as human, but on helping community leaders to recognize and act on their own humanity so they see people instead of numbers when making decisions about the homeless.

One friend I spoke to said that after she wrote down her definition of compassion and went on with her day, she kept thinking about it and wanting to add this or change that. Then she realized that his prompting had her focusing on compassion all day, and I think that’s just what David would want to happen.

I’ll walk on now, but you might want to stop and let David know what compassion means to you. (Note: Learn more about David in the March 4, 2011 Walking Bob entry “Compassion: The Book”)

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