In 2009, religious scholar Karen Armstrong won a prize from the TED Institute for, as their tagline goes, “an idea worth spreading.” It was compassion. Her wish, emerging from her award, was to create a Charter for Compassion as a powerful crowd-sourced document, meaning that no one person would be the author, receiving contributions from as many as who wanted to participate. Thousands of people answered the call and developed the following piece:
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.
Would Gandhi sign this document? Some might argue no–he did not, after all, sign the Declaration of Human Rights, saying that it neglected language about our duties from which our rights emerge in his view. But couldn’t compassion be a duty? To give compassion is our duty as human beings to all of life. So, if Gandhi were to sign this, he would only do so telling us that actually fulfilling that duty is more important than any words we might have promising to do it. Let us put compassion into action.
Add your name to the Charter for Compassion and share it with others through your actions today.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 email@example.com