Tom Tait

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Tom Tait Photographs courtesy of the City of Anaheim

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait

The "City of Kindness" Initiative that Brought His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Anaheim, California

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait’s “City of Kindness” initiative was instrumental in His Holiness the Dalai Lama choosing the city of Anaheim to celebrate his 80th birthday in July 2015, as well as in bringing together thought leaders for the Global Compassion Summit in Orange County, California. With a juris doctorate degree and an MBA, Tom Tait has served 10 years on the Anaheim City Council and is in his second four-year term, which began in 2010, as the mayor of Orange County’s most populous city, while also serving as the CEO of an engineering and environmental services firm. He spearheaded Anaheim’s program to help the homeless and introduced “Drug Free Anaheim,” a program that encourages chronic drug users to ask for help at Anaheim police stations in exchange for a free ride to a rehabilitation center. He has also worked toward improving relations between the Anaheim police and residents. Tait is known for standing up for what he believes in, even when this means holding his ground against the city’s corporate giants. Tokyo Journal Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie talked to Mayor Tait about his trip to India to meet the Dalai Lama and Anaheim’s celebration for the spiritual leader’s 80th birthday.

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TJ: Can you tell us how you developed Anaheim’s theme of “City of Kindness?”
TAIT: I met this man, whose name is Dr. Jaievsky. He put these signs around town that said, “Make kindness contagious.” He told me he’s from Argentina and how his little daughter Natasha had died in a car accident. Natasha had written these beautiful things about kindness before she died. He said, “I’m a holistic doctor. You can either treat the symptoms or you can stimulate the body to heal itself holistically. I think the same applies to a city. I think that has something to do with kindness.” So after 10 years on the city council, I’m about to be termed out, and I thought, “Boy! I’ve been treating the symptoms.” A light bulb went off . I thought I was done, but this idea of kindness really just pulled at me. I saw a culture change and I know in business, because I run a business, that culture trumps all ... A CEO is the best person to change culture or develop it or heal it, and what you do is talk about it all the time. You drive it, and then people start to get it and you focus on them. I thought, “I’m going to run on a platform of kindness and freedom.” That’s how I got elected. We had to come up with some policies under this [platform], so we had “Hi Neighbor,” which was connecting people and building up social infrastructure ... It’s a community, and kindness is the glue or the mortar. It has to do with being safer — police protection, being prepared for emergencies ... People are just happier when they know they’re part of a community that cares for them. I went around to a lot of churches and mosques because they understood it already. Nonprofits get it very easily and, actually, everybody gets it, but it’s about taking those values outside the churches’walls. I met with superintendents and the school district, and people started doing things and making this “City of Kindness” known. The city school district did a “Million Acts of Kindness.” It changed the schools as far as bullying and those types of issues go — suspensions went way down.

TJ: How did the City of Anaheim get chosen as the location to celebrate the 80th birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama?
TAIT: I had this meeting with Lama Tenzin of Friends of the Dalai Lama, his emissary for peace. He said, “We’re interested in having the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday here in your city.” Then a little bit after that I got a call from Lama Tenzin saying his Holiness is very impressed with the kindness initiative, especially with the schools, and would like to invite you to go to Dharamsala to visit.” ... We got there and had an incredible meeting for about 45 minutes ... Then his Holiness invited us to this next room on the compound, and there’s Bishop Desmond Tutu! They were working together on a book called The Book of Joy. They had a documentary film crew there, and us ... We had this wonderful conversation about the great issues of joy, happiness, kindness, compassion, anger and envy ... I gave him an Anaheim City of Kindness token. He put that in his robe, and every day I’d see him, he’d take it out and say, “I have it.” ... He said to me that he believes the key to world peace is education through the schools and creating a culture of compassion and kindness in the schools — and that’s why he’s interested in these million acts of kindness particularly. So, in July he came out for his 80th birthday at the Honda Center. We sat down and had breakfast together, and he told me that he puts that coin on his breakfast table every morning. We had a wonderful event at the Honda Center ... He told me it was a good start what we’re doing, but you have to work hard at it. He said, “If you don’t work hard at it, Anaheim will be a city of fear and anger.” He put the challenge out that this is what we need to work on. At one point, right before he went on stage, he pulled me aside and said, “Imagine one day when we’re both in heaven and we’re looking down at this little Earth. Imagine if we helped make it a little kinder place,” which is kind of a challenge to everybody, I think. Cities are the great places to start. I don’t know how you change the nation from the top down. If you do something in the city that works, mayors are very apt to copy things. I think cities are the laboratory and the catalyst to really make things happen.

TJ: Do you feel Anaheim schools could benefit from having sister schools in other countries and spreading this “City of Kindness” campaign overseas?
TAIT: Yes. With sister cities, I can tell you one thing that was beautiful, and it had to do with this whole kindness campaign. When [Anaheim’s sister city] Mito in Japan had the earthquake, some students started talking about kindness and what could they do, and . . . they did a letter writing campaign. I think they sent 2,000 letters to kids in Mito, Japan just saying we’re with you, and I know for the Mayor of Mito and the people who’ve been here that it was a very moving gesture from us to them.

TJ: What impression did Desmond Tutu have on you?
TAIT: He had the presence of a great man ... courageous, a man who helped change the world. It was very powerful. They talked — here was an Anglican Archbishop and a Tibetan Buddhist monk — and they just about agreed on everything. I’m Catholic, and it made me stronger in my own faith because you see these universal truths. They’re also great friends and you can see their friendship. They were kidding back and forth with each other in very fun ways. Bishop Tutu is 84. There was just tremendous wisdom in that room.

TJ: What’s the most important thing you gained from your trip?
TAIT: Meeting those two men inspired me to do good. They said, “If you want to be happy, be kind and compassionate.” For compassion, he means, “Those who are hurting, helping them.” So it’s an action word, whereas for us compassion is not really an action word. You can sit on your couch and be compassionate — kindness is the action word. That’s why I chose it because you can’t sit on your couch and be kind to somebody. You can be respectful. You can be compassionate. You can be empathetic — but to be kind you have to get up and do something. Compassion needs to be that action word. And then kindness, in their translation, is someone who’s not hurting and you help. So if I were to buy you lunch today, that would be more of an act of kindness — also good, but more of a deeper virtue is compassion ... You know his big thing is to show compassion and kindness to your enemy, which is a tough one. He says, “Separate the action from the person.” I think Abraham Lincoln has a statement that says the best way to destroy your enemy is to make them your friend. That’s a challenge, to separate the action from the person, but I’m working on it.

TJ: Was there anything that His Holiness the Dalai Lama said during this whole time that you disagreed with or had trouble accepting?
TAIT: No. He talks about kindness being universal, and universal truths . . . It’s the same idea with what Dr. Jaievsky was telling me about. It’s about culture change if you really want to change the world. It’s why I ran [for mayor] ... tj

The complete article can be found in Issue #278 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.

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