Recently, a wave of the practice of compassion has come over our shores through the promotion of the Charter for Compassion. Best-selling author Karen Armstrong, winner of the prestigious 2008 TED prize for innovative ideas, is the inspiration behind this charter (charterforcompassion.org) and the burgeoning movement surrounding it.
Armstrong was recently in Vancouver for a Simon Fraser University program — Twelve Days of Compassion — and caught the attention of prominent radio and TV interviewers. People across the whole spectrum of business and political interests, and of varying spiritualities and ethnicities around the globe, are taking note, coming together, and taking action.
This may sound like apple-pie at first, but as Vancouver columnist Douglas Todd headlines it (on March 27), “compassion is not soft.”
It’s hard and important work, and it’s everyday gritty work.
We humans are hard wired both for outright selfishness (our reptilian brain at its worst) and more importantly, it seems we are capable of transcending this by a cortical thickening of the brain through thinking and acting with a care for others.
There is actually a science to compassion, and Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) is dedicated to promoting this.
All of us, in our common humanity, can find and use our inner compass for compassion through pausing regularly a few minutes each day to open ourselves to the energy of compassion within us, whether we translate that as prayer, meditation, mindfulness, or leave it unnamed and simply send loving thoughts and wishes towards ourselves and towards whatever we consider to be “other” — another human being, a group of people, government or business leaders, the planet, someone whom we know to be in distress, and someone who challenges us or whom we find it difficult to love.
Speaking for the Christian tradition, I can only say that love and compassion are at the heart of our faith through Jesus’ enunciation of the Golden Rule (putting ourselves in the others’ shoes — right there in his first public address) and through the importance given to the Triple Commandment to love God, others and self.
Love and compassion are at the heart of our Scriptures and teachings, our acts of worship and our witness and service in the world.
As hymnwriter Fred Kaan would say it, this kind of loving compassion is “touchstone, guide, and norm.”
Can you imagine national politics conducted with mutual respect and courteous disagreement, rather than personally-directed negative campaigning?
Can you visualize a day when our local city, town and regional councillors sit down alongside chamber of commerce and faith leaders with the topic of compassion on the agenda and a charter in front of them inviting cooperative action?
Well, be surprised!
The idea of locally-based civic compassion is not as far-fetched as it may seem at first.
Seattle was the first city to sign on with a multi-year public commitment to action as a “compassionate city.”
London, Ontario was the first Canadian city to sign on, and the Greater Vancouver Compassion Action Network has identified more than 60 reading groups in the lower mainland working through Armstrong’s book Twelve Steps To A Compassionate Life.
The engagement is there, and hotspot cities in Pakistan, the Middle East and Turkey are taking their stand as well for compassion.
Maybe this could translate into a broad-based local movement.
I am game for talking it up. SFU had 12 days. Does a theme of 12 months for compassionate action in Oceanside strike a chord?
The Rev. Andrew Twiddy is the Rector (pastor) of the Anglican parish of St. Anne & St. Edmund, Parksville. Questions or comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 250-594-1549.