OLEAN — “Anything that separates is not love.”
That’s the message Berry Behr shared Tuesday with the Olean Times Herald, and will share at the Chautauqua Institution as part of her presentation Thursday morning during the Olean Charter for Compassion program “Cultivating Compassion in your Community.”
The event held in Chautauqua is one inspired by the greater international collective, Charter for Compassion, which encourages communities to value diversity, inclusion and community. Local governments — such as the city of Olean — sign with the international organization to be recognized as a charter city, but businesses and individuals can go online and sign the charter as well.
“I think the most important thing about building communities is that we’re building relationships, so anything that helps people to make friends with each other,” she said.
Behr works at Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, an organization that strives to connect people of all races, genders, sexual orientations and faiths.
During her 8:30 a.m. presentation, Behr will share how the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative connected with the Charter for Compassion in 2013 and has since used the charter as a healing experience in communities. She will also talk about how she accepted the World Interfaith Harmony Award in the country of Jordan for her organization’s work in global acceptance and connectivity.
The Charter for Compassion hopes to stretch the world to form bridges of understanding in a globalized society.
“That ocean that separates us is also the thing that connects us,” Behr said.
These words held their weight after the March shooting that devastated the Christchurch mosque and community in New Zealand. After the attack, the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative applied the Charter for Compassion and held an “observance of compassion.” All were invited to participate. The goal was to foster healing through community regardless of faith.
“What we discovered afterward was we were pouring our hearts out in sympathy for what happened in Christchurch, but in return we experienced an enormous healing for ourselves in terms of divisions that we’ve experienced in South Africa,” Behr said.
When the bombing that killed Christians occurred in Sri Lanka in April, the charter was once again applied. An imam — a worship leader at a mosque in the Muslim community — who had been at the observance of compassion after the Christchurch attacks told Behr that he and his community wanted to reciprocate the feeling of empathy and kindness toward their Christian neighbors.
Going out of the way to be a community of compassion can seem intangible, but Behr suggested making friends with people whom one may not be familiar with by sharing a meal. She also suggests making a space more inclusive for a diverse set of needs.
The conference costs $50 and will include a buffet lunch.