Committing to Compassion

I’ve been aware of Compassionate Action Network International’s Charter for Compassion for more than four years now. Yet I only signed it today. I’m not sure why. No reason I can think of sounds right.

But when I re-read the text of the Charter today, I was struck by how worthy of endorsement it is, not simply as text on a webpage but as the inspiration for stronger relationships across social lines. I became the 94,133rd signatory. 

Charter For Compassion logo94,133rd Signatory of the Charter for Compassion

I bet I’m not the only reader who identifies with the Charter’s values but doesn’t feel as strongly connected to the community of thousands that’s evolved around it.

Dr. Karen Armstrong is one of the most visible representatives of this movement and I enjoy her presentations about it: she argues well why the pro-compassion movement adds value to religious and secular communities alike. But in my day-to-day sphere, I don’t hear much about it. I may become a reason for that to change.

The ethic of reciprocity (do unto others as you’d have them do unto you) is native philosophy to many of my friends and colleagues. I’ve studied ethics and moral systems of value as part of my work in an academic ethics center and in my social justice education as well.

But reviewing the text today made me wonder: how many accessible spaces for a discussion of compassion and respectful community are there for people not already engaged in religion or academia or the non-profit sector? Why should this be a conversation that only a subset of society participates in? What would it take to mainstream empathy? What’s the role of emotional intelligence? And how much of this is teach-able?

This is the Charter’s full text:

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

If this resonates with you too, sign the Charter and consider how you can help to promote these values through your own lifework.

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