BY ANDREW SMITH
LISTOWEL – The power of empathy and the courage to show it was part of the message at the annual Together We’re Better celebration Thursday night.
North Perth Community of Character co-ordinator Tami Chauvin welcomed people to the seventh annual event, which began after the overwhelming response to an event hosted by the Self Advocates of North Perth.
“Their hope was to have 100 people,” she said. “It was packed in here, you couldn’t fit another body.”
The initiative has grown into a week-long celebration of character in North Perth, including a Random Act of Kindness event on Nov. 9 hosted by the Kinette Club of Listowel. This year’s speaker, Therese Bowler, said the movement is especially evident in local elementary schools, where she has been working with the students on HOAP (honesty, ownership, apology and plan) training.
“I have the good fortune of working with kids all over the place, but these particular kids really struck me with their genuine compassion and genuine interest in making a difference in their school,” she said. “I really mean it when I say these kids are changing their communities.”
Bowler said her sense of character was instilled by being raised in a loving home as the youngest of 14 children. Bowler said her mother was the embodiment of empathy, whether she was caring for her family or providing food for total strangers.
“I don’t remember any lectures about being a person of character, I just lived it,” Bowler said. “I’m just fortunate to be the youngest in a family full of really dynamic people, all people who have contributed to their communities as well.”
Bowler said empathy is best experienced when it’s paired with another of the 11 character traits within North Perth’s Community of Character, courage. The courage to stand up against demeaning remarks is something more commonly seen in children, she said, and for adults it becomes more difficult to make that decision.
“I don’t think anyone is born with courage, I think it’s a choice in a moment,” she said. “Without a doubt, it’s about the action because talk is cheap.”
Relating her own experiences, Bowler said she has seen tremendous outpourings of empathy, whether following the downtown Listowel fire that took the lives of two volunteer firefighters, or during the August 2011 tornado that tore through Goderich. Driving through Goderich on that day, Bowler said she was struck by the efforts that people would go to for total strangers when faced with a tragedy.
“It seems in a tragedy that our deepest and best qualities we have surface,” Bowler said. “They certainly, without fail, show the best in human beings.”