By Sara Schairer
I believe that small acts of compassion by individuals can make a HUGE impact on our world. Yes, it sounds cliché and unrealistic, but I know it’s true. How can I possibly know that? Because Compassion It, the organization I’ve founded, has gone from an idea to a global social movement thanks to a handful of small acts by individuals.
Let me explain…
In the summer of 2008, I caught an episode of “Ellen” that changed my life. Ellen Degeneres interviewed an author who spoke about the power of compassion. He said it was the most important lesson to teach our children. If our future leaders would be compassionate, every social problem on the planet would be solved.
I contemplated compassion for hours that day. The word compassionate then appeared as ‘compassion it’ in my head. Compassion was now a verb! An action! That made a lot of sense to me.
But did it make sense to anyone else?
I wrote out the words ‘compassion it’ and showed it to my friends Susanne Winslow and Jill Stoddard. Because of their enthusiasm and encouragement, I decided to trademark Compassion It.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2011. I had done nothing with this simple two-word phrase, because I was busy parenting a toddler and was getting my life back on track after a failed marriage. I suddenly felt an enormous sense of urgency to do something with Compassion It. I decided to make decals and magnets, and I sat down with talented graphic designer and friend, Mary Beckert. She volunteered her time to turn my vision into something tangible.
In October of 2011, I showed a decal to my friend, Sherri Wilkins, who happens to be a marketing and advertising genius. I’ll never forget her words, “This could be huge.” WOW. Talk about fueling the fire! This propelled me to keep moving forward with my idea. Wilkins began to help me get Compassion It off the ground.
In December, I caught up with my college roommate, Susan Kim. She suggested that I reach out to her friend, Tony Chen, to seek entrepreneurial advice. I called Chen, and he encouraged me to apply for a social innovation leadership academy through his current social start-up Movement121. I applied, was accepted and found myself among a group of people from around the world who all had a similar mission – to make the world a better place through social enterprise.
The academy director, Mark Chassman, created teams. Our first task as a team was to come up with a problem of the world and then create a business that would provide a solution. My team voted to use Compassion It as our business, and I was thrilled to now have a group of bright, energetic and ambitious people helping me.
Throughout all of this, I was still unsure about what Compassion It would be. Perhaps it could be the next “Life is Good,” a t-shirt company with a meaningful message. Or maybe we’ll sell bumper stickers to get this message out. I knew it would be some sort of business whose profits would go toward compassion education in schools.
I felt deep down, though, that Compassion It was a social movement. It was much more than just a t-shirt company. Compassion It was a way to live.
I expressed these thoughts with Sherri Wilkins, who said, “If you want it to be a social movement, you need to sell something less expensive than a t-shirt. You need something small…like a bracelet.” Soon thereafter, I thought of creating reversible bracelets that would inspire compassionate actions.
Heather Arnold, from my Movement121 team, came up with the brilliant idea to sell the bracelets in pairs. That way, a person’s first act of compassion is to give the other bracelet away.
That first batch of bracelets arrived on my birthday – May 10, 2012. I had 500 pairs.
My next question was, “Who is going to buy them?”
In the beginning of the summer, two of my teammates from the academy faced tragedy when their hometown of Northbrook, Ill., lost two young men to suicide and another to a car accident within three weeks. Teammate Casey Tanner called and said that her town needed Compassion It as a way to unite and grieve. She started a movement in Northbrook and used the bracelets as a fundraiser for the boys’ families. Bracelets sold out in 42 minutes. Thousands of residents of Northbrook still ‘compassion it’ daily in honor of those men.
One Northbrook resident, Marie Wojtan, sent her extra bracelet to a young woman in Great Britain by the name of Carrie Hope Fletcher. Fletcher has over 90,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel, and she posted a ‘jolly good’ bit about her Compassion It bracelet.
Thanks to Fletcher’s post (which has generated over 100,000 views), we’ve sold Compassion It bracelets to folks in England, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Thousands of people all over the world now ‘compassion it’ each day.
And to think…if it weren’t for Ellen, Susanne, Jill, Mary, Sherri, Susan, Tony, Mark, Heather, Casey, Marie and Carrie, Compassion It would not exist as a global social movement.
This is just the beginning of a movement that I believe can improve the social consciousness of the world and ultimately lead to peace. All it takes are small acts of compassion by each one of us.
Compassion It’s mission is to inspire daily compassionate actions. Please join me, and let’s ‘compassion it’!