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SALT LAKE CITY — It's not an app, per se, but setting daily reminders on your cellphone to jog your memory to serve others and express gratitude may help contribute to more civil and compassionate communities.
Sometimes the smallest gestures mean a lot, said Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, whether it's a smile or a handshake. It's equally important to say "thank you" to people who extended some kindness each day, he said.
"When you express gratitude and serve others, it actually improves your mental health," Cox said during a news conference Wednesday to launch the Utah Civil and Compassionate Communities Initiative.
Speaking on the steps of the Salt Lake City-County Building, Cox, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and other community leaders marked the start of the initiative, intended to encourage all Utahns to be more welcoming, inclusive, caring and compassionate.
The initiative dovetails with the upcoming Parliament of the World's Religions running Oct. 15-19 in Salt Lake City. British author and commentator Karen Armstrong, founder of the global Compassionate Communities movement, will offer the keynote at Parliament's Golden Banquet on Sunday, Oct. 18.
Armstrong is a former Roman Catholic nun. Upon leaving the convent in 1969, she engaged in extensive study of major religions and their common understandings of compassion and the golden rule. Her book, "A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam" was published in 1993, followed by other books.
In 2008, Armstrong was awarded the TED Prize to launch the Charter for Compassion, a global campaign to activate compassion at the center of people's lives and social institutions through collaborative partnerships worldwide.
Cox said Utahns express their civility and compassion through their nation-leading rates of voluntarism.
"We start from a very good place when it comes to being civil and compassionate. But I think it's important to note that civility actually begins at home. When we're civil with our families, with our spouses, our children and those we're around more often than not, that leads and bleeds into civil communities, civil workplaces as well," he said.
Cox joined Becker and about a dozen other community leaders in signing a Charter for Compassion, calling upon "all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion."
Becker said he became aware of the global movement from Louisville, Kentucky, Mayor Greg Fischer, who launched an initiative in his city and has encouraged cities across the country to strive to become Compassionate Communities.
"The movement calls on communities throughout the world to treat others the way we would wish to be treated. Its charter document 'transcends religious, ideological and national differences, and is supported by leading thinkers of many traditions,'" he said.
Salt Lake City and communities have a strong tradition of compassion grounded in the golden rule, Becker said.
Salt Lake's efforts to support homeless people, welcome refugees and new immigrants, care for seniors and volunteer are tangible examples of the community's compassion and civility.
"Compassion can be expressed on all levels, one-on-one, within families, in small neighborhoods and as communities. We will work with community-based organizations, including our community councils, to push this effort forward," Becker said.
The initiative, an outgrowth of the Utah Civility and Community 2011 initiative led by then-Lt. Gov. Greg Bell and Mayor Becker, blends the previous effort with the global Compassionate Communities movement.
"The Utah Civil and Compassionate Communities Initiative is a natural successor to the 2011 Civility Community initiative," said John Kesler, president of the Salt Lake Civil Network.
"Civility has been defined as the civic expression of the golden rule," Kesler said. "Compassionate Communities are grounded on communities explicitly embracing and practicing the golden rule."
Contributing: Alex Cabrero