I hope you will be as proud as I am to know that the LBA Board unanimously adopted a resolution at its December 2015 meeting, declaring the Louisville Bar Association to be a “Compassionate Organization.” The LBA’s resolution affirms the Charter for Compassion adopted by the Louisville Metro Council (also unanimously) on November 11, 2011, declaring Louisville to be a compassionate city.

The LBA is not by any means the first to declare itself a compassionate organization, but in acting now, we join other outstanding corporate citizens that have also made the commitment. Brown-Forman Corporation, Jefferson County Public Schools, Signature HealthCARE, Metro United Way, Yum! Brands, The Legal Aid Society of Louisville, Baptist Health, and UPS are just a few others with whom we lawyers now stand committed.

So what’s all the fuss about compassion, and what does it have to do with us as lawyers? Compassion has been defined a number of ways both by those who try to say what it is and those who say what it is not. For example, compassion is not pity—it is moving from an internal belief and principles to empowering people to make a difference in their own life and the lives of others. It is related to, but is not empathy. Empathy generally involves the ability to see from another’s perspective and “feel their pain.” Compassion takes us a step beyond. It motivates us to help relieve the pain or to better the other person’s situation.

Nelson Mandela said of compassion, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other—not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” The Dalai Lama advises, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Closer to home than Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama, our own Mayor Greg Fischer, one of the strongest and most vocal proponents of Louisville as a compassionate city, describes compassion as “a platform that we are building together to give all citizens a firm footing, a solid place to launch from to reach their full potential. That’s what compassion means to us—thriving and flourishing people.”

The community’s reputation for welcoming refugees, its support for the Festival of Faiths, and the Mayor’s Give A Day project are proof that the compassionate designation has been more than aspirational. Additionally, however, Louisville has been deemed a “hotbed of caring” and has been recognized four times as an “International Model City of Compassion.”

A number of interesting points were raised during the Board’s discussion of the resolution, but two stood out in my mind. The first was a comment, somewhat in jest, that the public would perceive lawyers as the least likely to embrace a goal of compassion. The other was a question of what will be required of the members and of the LBA as a result of declaring itself a compassionate organization. My answer to both is very similar. If the public, or perhaps even lawyers themselves, find it unusual that lawyers would embrace compassion as a goal, they need to rethink what it means to be a lawyer. I believe all lawyers, whether practicing, teaching, serving as judges, or involved in public service are motivated by a desire to help others. The desire may be focused narrowly on clients, on the broader welfare of students as future lawyers, or on ensuring justice before the bench and in the community at large. Underlying it all is the ideal and, hopefully, a commitment to justice, equity, and the rule of law which serves as a foundation for a civilized society in which compassion can flourish.

To the second question, what does the resolution require of us? It does not require adherence to, much less express support for, any religious tenets or political ideology. In declaring the LBA a compassionate organization, we accept a shared purpose and principle that compassion provides common ground and a unifying force in an increasingly polarized world. We acknowledge an obligation to work towards relief of suffering, respect for all human beings and treating everyone with justice, equity and respect.

In many ways, the resolution simply requires the LBA to continue doing what it has been doing over the years, but with an intention and renewed sense of purpose in the knowledge that we have now added, along with others, our endorsement to what the city began four years ago. Indeed, the resolution, itself, notes the LBA’s history of acting in ways which have contributed to Louisville’s being a compassionate city even before Louisville adopted that title.

Just a few examples include the earliest days of the LBA when, in 1871, local lawyers met to advocate for certain legal reforms including the adoption of a state law guaranteeing that witnesses could not be barred from testifying in court on the basis of race or color; working with the Louisville Women’s Club to establish the Legal Aid Society in 1921; helping secure passage of the constitutional amendment in 2002 which established family courts as a permanent part of Kentucky’s judicial system; engaging in a wide variety of public service projects including the annual school supply drive benefiting underprivileged elementary students in Jefferson County Public Schools; helping past LBA President Martha Hasselbacher launch Doctors & Lawyers for Kids, a medical-legal partnership that works to remove legal barriers to healthy living for low income children and families; supporting past LBA President Tom Williams in his efforts to establish Restorative Justice Louisville; and, encouraging the many lawyers who perform either intentional or so-called “random” acts of kindness on a daily basis.

So, there you have it. Compassion is not pity. It is not weak. To the contrary, it requires strength of conviction and courage to act. What the LBA now has done is join the ranks of other notable corporate and individual citizens to make Louisville a more compassionate city by adding our public endorsement, expression of support, and commitment to act. Is this who we are as lawyers and what we should keep striving to be? You bet! Keep up the good work and see through a new lens of compassion the role you and your colleagues play in making the LBA a compassionate organization.