YOU'VE heard about the Hunger Games; now get ready for the Compassion Games.
In the Hunger Games, a book by author Suzanne Collins, a boy and girl from each of 12 districts in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle to the death.
In the Compassion Games, people are also pitted against each other, but in a very different way. Instead of a fight to see who is fiercest, it's a competition to see who is the kindest.
The Compassion Games originated in Louisville, Ky., in 2011. It was inspired by the Charter of Compassion, an international movement to promote the idea of the Golden Rule -- the idea found in almost every religion that we should treat people the way we'd like to be treated.
After declaring itself a "compassionate city" in 2010, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer challenged residents of that city to live up to the declaration by showing compassion to each other for a week.
Around 90,000 people responded, performing over 100,000 hours of community service, such as packaging 30,000 meals for needy families, donating 3,000 books to schools, making 1,000 blood donations and planting 200 trees in city parks.
Emboldened by the successful venture, Fischer challenged other American towns and cities to out-good-deed Louisville.
"I've said from day one that we're going to pursue being recognized as the most compassionate city in the world," he is quoted as saying. "And if that prods other cities to try to outdo us, then 'game on.' In a competition centered on compassion, everyone wins!"
Seattle was the first to accept the challenge; in 2012, residents of that city topped Louisville by contributing over 150,000 hours of community service.
This year's Games will be held Sept. 11-21. Eight American cities are in the running to be the kindest, along with Delhi, India. Meanwhile, the LGBT community is challenging its members to participate in the Games, no matter where they live in the world.
Events in the Compassion Games include individual activities, called Random Acts of Compassion, and group activities. Individuals are encouraged to do spontaneous acts of kindness such as helping neighbours with yardwork, visiting someone who is lonely, reading to a child, donating blood or picking up litter.
Groups are encouraged to take on larger, more organized activities such as cleaning up a park, painting someone's house, volunteering at a food bank or homeless shelter and other things.
For Compassion Games organizers, the event is "designed to help, heal and inspire," making a community a "safer, kinder, more just and better place to live."
Some might see the Compassion Games as a gimmick. After all, we shouldn't need an official competition to act kindly toward others. But maybe it's not such a bad idea after all, especially if it encourages people to do more things to help others, or do an act of kindness of some sort for the first time.
It certainly couldn't hurt. At a time when the headlines are dominated by news of war, bombings, crime and many other stories of bad news, it would be nice if one of the main things the media had to report for a week was all the ways people are being kind to each other.
Perhaps then we might have more stories like that of Winnipeg Transit driver Kris Doubledee, who inspired millions across North America last year when he gave his shoes to a shoeless man in downtown Winnipeg.
When asked why he did it, Doubledee replied: "I couldn't stand seeing someone walking barefoot in this temperature like this."
In another interview, he said his act was "automatic. It was something that come to me and I could do something about it... anybody would do the same thing."
I don't know about you, but that sounds like a challenge to me -- a good challenge. Perhaps various faith groups, inspired by their own version of the Golden Rule, can take up the challenge and lead the way.
More information about the Compassion Games can be found at http://compassiongames.org/.