By Sally Sommers
The Charter for Compassion, brought to WSFPC’s attention a year ago, bills itself as “the best idea humanity ever had.” We have been reading, praying and discussing- exploring how we can intentionally make this an underlying principle both in our collective mission as well as our individual lives. Compassion, a many layered word, lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions. It calls on us to follow the Golden Rule – treat others as you wish to be treated. This rule requires that we use empathy and moral imagination to put ourselves in others’ shoes, refusing to cause them any harm.
Karen Armstrong, a prominent author of over 20 books exploring the commonality of the three Abrahamic faiths, was invited to make a presentation at the Technology, Entertainment and Design Conference. This conference brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers of our times. After a rousing speech that condensed her life’s work into 18 minutes, she was given a reward of $100,000 and the edict to grant her one wish – “to change the world.” Her studies led to the conclusion that the Golden Rule, stated in various ways, lies at the bottom of all religions. From this insight she developed the Charter of Compassion, and it is now our job to spread the word. All of humanity is connected together, and we have the common challenge to tell our stories of compassion, whether witnessed or performed, to create a positive atmosphere of caring.
Sally Sommers is a member of Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community in Minneapolis, MN, a mother to 13 and a grandmother (of 38!). She is a valued member of WSFPC’s Servant Leadership Team (SLT) and has been the lead organizer of WSFPC’s 2011 Annual Gathering.
View the youtube video of Ms. Armstrong’s speech at the 2008 TED conference.
The Charter for Compassion
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 center of our world and put another there, and to honor 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 center 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.