The Charter for Compassion is an idea whose time has come. This was the theme of the speaker and co-founder of the Charter, Karen Armstrong, at the Scientific and Medical Network Conference I attended last weekend, The Science of Empathy and the Spirit of Compassion.
Launched globally in 2009, The Charter is the result of Karen’s 2008 TED Prize wish. Supported by the Fetzer Institute, (fostering awareness of the power of love and forgiveness in the world), the Charter was drafted by a multi-faith, multi-national council of thinkers and leaders, representing the 6 major world faiths, and based on a principle also embraced by every moral code. The Charter developed out of Karen’s frustration that, in her view, not enough was being done by the world’s religions to promote compassionate action. Because as she says, compassion manifests itself in the world not by thinking but by doing. That was what inspired me to write my book; the frustration I shared with Karen, that I felt looking around me at our behaviour and general lack of responsibility, our lack of knowledge and unthinking actions. That was why I wrote the book about what everyone can do, linking it to compassion and spirit and where we can nurture it in our lives. It complements everything that the Charter stands for. Although actually it is perhaps more about what we must refrain from doing! I am pleased that people are buying it. I pray that they convert ideas into action!
Confucius probably founded the Golden Rule, in a period of the world’s history similar to our own, when societies were being torn apart. And all the great religions share the same rule, expressed variously but always meaning: “Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself.”
500 years later Jesus taught that we should love our enemies. But love in that context meant loyalty, Karen explained, looking out for each other’s interests. The ancient Greeks introduced the tradition of tragedy plays, where the audience participated, encouraged to weep for the suffering played out on stage, because weeping together creates a bond.
We are now profoundly connected as humans across the world, and action is urgent. But we are guilty of group egotism, she warned us, loving only our own kind, and we are addicted to our own pet hates. We need to understand that each individual is a unique spiritual mystery, and we must be prepared to not only make dialogue with others outside our own limited circle but also be prepared to then change at a profound level. To see each other as divine is, she warned, the only way forward. She spoke of positive projects with The Charter; of international businesses applying the 12 steps, of eliminating violence amongst prisoners in a tough Washington jail by training the prison officers in compassion, how Seattle has become the first City for Compassion, and the enormous success story in Pakistan, leading the charter in its work, with modules of compassion introduced in education, including at primary school level and in the independent universities there, where it is mandatory to take a compassion course; Because education is key to the success of the project in many ways.
But here is the crunch. The media must be part of that education process, and they are guilty of bias against religions in so many ways. Karen told us that the minimal media coverage of this year’s floods in Pakistan failed to mention the many businessmen who put their companies on hold, often for many months, whilst they went to help in the afflicted areas. And after 9/11 a Gallop Poll showed that 93% of Muslims worldwide said that the atrocity was not justified, and none said that it was justified on religious grounds. The small number, 7%, who said 9/11 was justified quoted political reasons! Furthermore, most said the biggest obstacle to better relations with the West was the latter’s lack of respect for Islam. How many knew that from media reports?
We have to demand better media, because the media is so invasive into our consciousness, so easy to tap into in film or internet, YouTube and blog, so difficult to avoid and yet so powerful and far reaching in its influence. The creative forces at work in the media that relentlessly bring so many images into our lives, the writers, editors, journalists, photographers and all the myriad of support staff we see listed for example in the credits at the end of any film, bear an awesome responsibility.
As with other creativity, those working in the media can use their talents to help heal the world and nourish our souls, or to assist in the destruction of both. We all have free will and choice. The choice is ours and theirs.
My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.
"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden