Why the Dalai Lama will talk to US mayors about peace

The Buddhist spiritual leader is scheduled to speak to US mayors about how to instill compassion. His speech comes in the wake of the recent violence in Orlando and elsewhere in the US.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
The Dalai Lama during an appearance at American University's Bender Arena in northwest Washington last week. The spiritual leader will speak about compassion in cities at the US Mayor's Conference next week.

Mayors from around the nation will gather in Indianapolis next weekend for the annual US Conference of Mayors.

This year’s conference comes in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, Fla., and local leaders will discuss how to “reduce acts of hate and terror, and the unacceptable level of gun violence,” according to conference president, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore. 

As the politicians consider solutions to violence in their cities, they are expected to be joined by a global voice for nonviolence – the Dalai Lama.

The keynote address is scheduled to be the last speech in the Buddhist spiritual leader’s American tour, which began with an address to the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., on June 13. Stopping in several US cities since his arrival, he addressed violence by speaking about peace.

“Genuine peace must come from inner peace. It’s impossible to find peace if we are full of frustration, suspicion and mistrust,” he told listeners at his first address in Washington, repeating an adage that is central to his teachings.

“We all have problems to do with fear and anger, but withstanding difficulties is much easier if you have mental strength,” he said, according to his official website.

But the spiritual leader also gave advice for how this inner peace and mental strength can be cultivated externally, and the solution that he repeated throughout the country was simple: education.

One way to achieve peace of mind, he said, “is to encourage a more holistic approach to education that fosters a greater warm-heartedness based on scientific findings, common experience and common sense.”

But what does this holistic approach look like?

It may resemble a movement that’s been going on in Anaheim, Calif., and its schools, one that reportedly catalyzed the Dalai Lama’s appearance at the US Conference of Mayors.

It started with signs that read “Kindness is contagious” that began appearing around Anaheim in the early 2000s. They were put up by Edward Jaievsky in memory of his six-year old daughter, who died in a car accident, reported The Orange County Register.

Anaheim mayor Tom Tait, then an Anaheim city council member, met with Mr. Jaievsky in 2004, and began talking about how compassion could become a part of the city. The ideas percolated into his 2010 mayoral campaign, where he ran on a platform of “freedom and kindness,” pledging to make Anaheim, which is home to Disneyland and more than 300,000 people, a “city of kindness.”

As mayor, Mr. Tait implemented tangible ways to foster kindness. One was an online tool that matches residents with local volunteer organizations. To encourage compassion, he asked residents to submit examples of acts of kindness they saw in their daily lives, which were then posted on the city’s website. These ranged from babysitters volunteering their time to a family when a parent was undergoing chemotherapy, to an employee helping a stranded mother in a parking garage.

Tait was also involved in getting 24 Anaheim schools to take part in the "Million Acts of Kindness" initiative, where each student was asked to do at least 50 acts of kindness – big or small. They reportedly reached the goal within a year.

Tait hoped that the campaign for kindness would make the city safer.

“It sounds so simplistic but it’s really powerful,” Tait told Indiana’s Herald Bulletin, noting that the city schools have already seen reduced levels of bullying since the campaign, which launched in 2013. “People are safer when people are kinder to each other.”

California-based emissary to the Dalai Lama, Lama Tenzin Dhonden took note of the mayor’s acts of kindness and invited Tait to meet the Dalai Lama, who has had similar meetings with other US mayors who foster compassion in their cities.

The “Cities of Compassion” effort has been aided by the Seattle-based Compassionate Action Network.

These mayoral meetings resulted in the Dalai Lama’s invitation to the US Mayor’s Conference, where he is expected to speak June 26 about building peace and compassion within urban communities, both through fostering inner peace and action, according to Indiana’s Tribune Star. He's also scheduled to speak at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on June 25. 

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to inspire hundreds of mayors whose work impacts millions of people in thousands of communities," Lama Dhonden told the Herald Bulletin. "The ripple effect of love and compassion in community building can be enormous."

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