Speaker: Marilyn Turkovich

As a 12-year-old Croatian-American girl in the anti-Soviet climate of the 1960s, Marilyn Turkovich boldly subscribed to the magazine ‘Soviet Life’ without her parents’ knowledge. Postal deliveries weren’t covered in brown paper at the time, which meant that the magazine was no secret to the postal delivery person as well as the neighbors. Upon learning of the subscription, her parents worried what neighbors might interpret of the family’s political allegiance. But their daughter reasoned that she wasn’t defying anyone but simply acting on the premise that one must appreciate and learn from other people’s perspectives, however diverse their origin – and that this practice grows from the intimate spaces of our homes and neighborhood.

This was one of Marilyn Turkovich’s early acts of courage in her journey to becoming a teacher and organizer for compassion. Turkovich has dedicated herself to cultivating appreciation and understanding of diverse cultures, faiths and ways of life that exist around the world. She has worked since 2013 with the International Charter for Compassion (CFC), an organization founded to support the movement initiated by Karen Armstrong’s Charter of Compassion, and founded on “the fundamental principles of universal justice and respect” underlying the world’s religions and wisdom traditions. CFC aims to provide an umbrella for people to engage in collaborative partnerships worldwide designed to bring to life through concrete, practical action in a myriad of sectors the principles articulated in the Charter for Compassion.

Stepping into a diversity of roles – from educator, instruction and curriculum designer, facilitator, author and advocate, Turkovich presently is the Executive Director for CFC. She has helped bring 114 cities as signatories of the Charter, with about 300 more displaying readiness to plunge in. The Charter puts the golden rule – do unto others as you would to yourself – into practice through local communities around the world working across faiths, colors and ethnicities.

For Marilyn, “compassion is acting in solidarity with other people. And when you act in solidarity with others, you take the lead from them, don’t you? You don’t come in and say, ‘I have the solution!’ Rather, you explore collectively what that solution might be.” She says that oftentimes “our own personal wisdom gets in the way of really being effective,” since compassionate action often flows from compassionate questioning and compassionate listening to those most proximate to an issue.

Speaking from her home in Washington state at an International Inter-faith Peace Conference, she remarks on the subtle differences between empathy and compassion, “Empathy is defined as the feeling that arises within you when you are faced with another person’s suffering (hunger for instance), and you feel motivated to relieve that suffering. But compassion is not the same as empathy. Though the concepts are very much related. Empathy is our ability to feel the emotions of another person. Compassion is when those feeling and thoughts include the desire to help but more than that you do help. Research shows that when we feel compassion our heart rates slow down, we secrete the bonding hormone oxytocin, parts of our brain which get us to care for others light up. We care more for others – animals, people and environment. And as importantly ourselves.

Marilyn bases her work on building compassion in communities on scientific assessment that reckons that compassion may even be vital to the survival of our species. Communities with compassionate members will more likely thrive. Bit by bit over the course of last very many decades she has designed hundreds of curricula, training materials, and workshops custom-made to instill compassion rooted in the local needs and knowledge.

Marilyn’s hyphenated existence as a Croatian-American in an immigrant neighborhood of Pennsylvania gave her a first-hand understanding of making of a community, melding differences and caring for each other. Her grandparents’ way of life made a formidable mark in teaching her how to interact with others, how the boundaries between personal and civic responsibility blend, how to share responsibilities in a community – all of which predisposed her for linking community building and compassion in her later life.

In her own journey into appreciating otherness, she has spent extensive time in India and Mexico, beginning during her Fulbright scholarship days. Professionally, Marilyn has worked with Independent Broadcasting Associates on National Public Radio, the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and in organizational development, specializing in instructional design work, strategic planning and leadership. She has especially focused on developing training content on race and social justice initiatives.

Join us in conversation with this builder of compassionate communities.