The Charter for Compassion – An Introduction

in Psychology

What is it?

Crafted by people all over the world and drafted by a multi-fath, multi-national council of thinkers and leaders, the Charter for Compassion asks that we practice the Golden Rule: to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. It reminds the faithful (and the faithless, like me) that founders and leading sages of all the major traditions believed that the Golden Rule was the essence of ethics and religion, that everything else was “commentary”, and that it should be practised “all day and every day”. They insisted that any interpretation of scripture that led to hatred or disdain was illegitimate.

Why chart a charter?

The original reason was “so that people can look at their tradition, reclaim it, and make religion a source of peace in the world, which it can and should be”. This purpose is evolving as the charter movement evolves.

Who’s behind it?

Karen Armstrong pitched the idea, for which she won the TED Prize. Over 150,000 people from over 180 countries contributed their words. A “Council of Conscience” crafted these words into the Charter. Eighteen people formed the Council: Salman Ahmad, Ali Asani, Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, Sadhvi Chaitanya, Bishop John Bryson Chane, Sister Joan Chittister, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Mohsen Kadivar, Chandra Muzaffar, Baroness Julia Neuberger, Tariq Ramadan, Rabbi David Saperstein, Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, Rev. Peter Storey, Ha Vinh Tho, Weiming Tu, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jean Zaru. More credits here.

Does the Council of Conscience have a secret handshake?

Of course.

So where’s this Charter?

All will be revealed on November 12. Click here on 11:12 of 11/12 to win a prize.

What do I do in the meantime?

  1. Learn about it
  2. Attend or host an event
  3. Attend, ask for, or host a service
  4. Share the love
  5. Hang out on the Facebook, the Twitter (follow @TheCharter), the YouTube, and the Flickr

See also: Charter-related videos on TEDNews and blog posts on the Charter

Variations on a Theme
from the Wikipedia

And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. – Luke

Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not. – Baha’u'llah

Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing. – Thales

Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself. – Baha’u'llah

Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others. – Isocrates

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. – Leviticus

Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him. – Pittacus

Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. – Muhammad

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing ‘neither to harm nor be harmed’), and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life. – Epicurus

Just as pain is not agreeable to you, it is so with others. Knowing this principle of equality treat other with respect and compassion. – Suman Suttam

Love thy neighbour as thyself. – Luke

Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself. – Confucius

One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires. – Brihaspati

One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him. – Socrates

Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill. – Dhammapada

Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss. – T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien

That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn. – Hillel

That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind. – Muhammad

The truly enlightened ones are those who neither incite fear in others nor fear anyone themselves. – Guru Granth Sahib

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. – Matthew

What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others. – Epictetus

What you wish your neighbors to be to you, such be also to them. – Sextus the Pythagorean

The basis of faith-based community building

in Psychology

Excerpts from TED Talk by Karen Armstrong: What I’ve found, across the board, is that religion is about behaving differently. Instead of deciding whether or not you believe in God, first you have to do something. You behave in a committed way, and then you begin to understand the truths of religion. And religious doctrines are meant to be summons to action; you only understand them when you put them into practice.

And it is an arresting fact that right across the board, in every single one of the major world faiths, compassion — the ability to feel with the other in the way we’ve been thinking about this evening — is not only the test of any true religiosity, it is also what will bring us into the presence of what Jews, Christians and Muslims call “God” or the “Divine.” It is compassion, says the Buddha, which brings you to Nirvana. Why? Because in compassion, when we feel with the other, we dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and we put another person there. And once we get rid of ego, then we’re ready to see the Divine.

Every single one of the major world traditions has highlighted — and put at the core of their tradition — what’s become known as the Golden Rule. First propounded by Confucius five centuries before Christ: “Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” That, he said, was the central thread which ran through all his teaching and that his disciples should put into practice all day and every day. And it was the Golden Rule would bring them to the transcendent value that he called ren, human-heartedness, which was a transcendent experience in itself.

And this is absolutely crucial to the monotheisms, too. There’s a famous story about the great rabbi, Hillel, the older contemporary of Jesus. A pagan came to him and offered to convert to Judaism if the rabbi could recite the whole Jewish teaching while he stood on one leg. Hillel stood on one leg and said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and study it.”

And “go and study it” was what he meant. He said, “In your exegesis, you must make it clear that every single verse of the Torah is a commentary, a gloss upon the “Golden Rule.” The great Rabbi Meir said that any interpretation of scripture which led to hatred and disdain or contempt of other people — any people whatsoever — was illegitimate.

Saint Augustine made exactly the same point. Scripture, he says, “teaches nothing but charity, and we must not leave an interpretation of scripture until we have found a compassionate interpretation of it.” And this struggle to find compassion in some of these rather rebarbative texts is a good dress rehearsal for doing the same in ordinary life.

But now look at our world. And we are living in a world that is — where religion has been hijacked. Where terrorists cite Qur’anic verses to justify their atrocities. Where instead of taking Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies. Don’t judge others,” we have the spectacle of Christians endlessly judging other people, endlessly using scripture as a way of arguing with other people, putting other people down. Throughout the ages, religion has been used to oppress others, and this is because of human ego, human greed. We have a talent as a species for messing up wonderful things.

So the traditions also insisted — and this is an important point, I think — that you could not and must not confine your compassion to your own group: your own nation, your own co-religionists, your own fellow countrymen. You must have what one of the Chinese sages called “jian ai”: concern for everybody. Love your enemies. Honor the stranger. We formed you, says the Qur’an, into tribes and nations so that you may know one another.

And this, again — this universal outreach — is getting subdued in the strident use of religion — abuse of religion — for nefarious gains.

There’s also a great deal, I think, of religious illiteracy around. People seem to think now equate religious faith with believing things. We often call religious people believers, as though that were the main thing that they do. And very often, secondary goals get pushed into the first place, in place of compassion and the Golden Rule. Because the Golden Rule is difficult. When I’m speaking to congregations about compassion, I sometimes see a mutinous expression crossing some of their faces. Because a lot of religious people prefer to be right, rather than compassionate.

The excerpts above are from a longer version of this speech, found here: Karen Armstrong makes her TED Prize wish: the Charter for Compassion.

The Charter for Compassion launches on November 12, 2009.

Majora Carter’s tale of urban renewal

in Psychology

Majora Carter is a visionary voice in city planning who views urban renewal through an environmental lens. With her inspired ideas and fierce persistence, Carter managed to bring the South Bronx its first open-waterfront park in 60 years, Hunts Point Riverside Park. Excerpts:

Why is this story important?  Because from a planning perspective, economic degradation  begets environmental degradation, which begets social degradation. The disinvestment that began in the 1960s  set the stage for all the environmental injustices that were to come.  Antiquated zoning and land-use regulations are still used to this day to continue putting polluting facilities in my neighborhood. Are these factors taken into consideration when land-use policy is decided?  What costs are associated with these decisions? And who pays?  Who profits? Does anything justify what the local community goes through? This was “planning” — in quotes — that did not have our best interests in mind.

As we nurture the natural environment, its abundance will give us back even more. We run a project called the Bronx Ecological Stewardship Training,  which provides job training in the fields of ecological restorations,  so that folks from our community have the skills to compete for these well-paying jobs.  Little by little, we’re seeding the area with green collar jobs — then the people that have both a financial and personal stake in their environment.

We also built the city’s — New York City’s first green and cool roof demonstration project on top of our offices. Cool roofs are highly reflective surfaces that don’t absorb solar heat and pass it on to the building or atmosphere. Green roofs are soil and living plants. Both can be used instead of petroleum-based roofing materials that absorb heat, contribute to urban “heat island” effect and degrade under the sun, which we in turn breathe.

I do not expect individuals, corporations or government to make the world a better place because it is right or moral. I know it’s the bottom line, or one’s perception of it, that motivates people in the end. I’m interested in what I like to call the “triple bottom line” that sustainable development can produce. Developments that have the potential to create positive returns for all concerned: the developers, government and the community where these projects go up.

A parade of government subsidies is going to proposed big-box and stadium developments in the South Bronx, but there is scant coordination between city agencies on how to deal with the cumulative effects of increased traffic, pollution, solid waste and the impacts on open space.

Now let’s get this straight. I am not anti-development. Ours is a city, not a wilderness preserve. And I’ve embraced my inner capitalist. And you probably all have, and if you haven’t, you need to. So I don’t have a problem with developers making money. There’s enough precedent out there to show that a sustainable, community-friendly development can still make a fortune. Fellow TEDsters Bill McDonough and Amory Lovins — both heroes of mine by the way — have shown that you can actually do that.

I do have a problem with developments that hyper-exploit politically vulnerable communities for profit. That it continues is a shame upon us all, because we are all responsible for the future that we create. But one of the things I do to remind myself of greater possibilities is to learn from visionaries in other cities. This is my version of globalization.

When I spoke to Mr. Gore the other day after breakfast, I asked him how environmental justice activists were going to be included in his new marketing strategy.  His response was a grant program.  I don’t think he understood that I wasn’t asking for funding.  I was making him an offer.

What troubled me was that this top-down approach is still around. Now, don’t get me wrong, we need money. But grassroots groups are needed at the table during the decision-making process. Of the 90 percent of the energy that Mr. Gore reminded us that we waste every day, don’t add wasting our energy, intelligence and hard-earned experience to that count.

By working together, we can become one of those small, rapidly growing groups of individuals who actually have the audacity and courage to believe that we actually can change the world.

Jonathan Haidt on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives

in Psychology

Community builders have to bridge all sorts of divides – of race, religion, money, politics, philosophy. In this TED talk, psychologist Jonathan Haidt gives an overview of how — and why — we evolved to be moral. By understanding more about our moral roots, his hope is that we can learn to be civil and understanding of those whose morals don’t match ours, but who are equally good and moral people on their own terms. Excerpts:

Let’s start at the beginning. What is morality and where does it come from? To find out, my colleague Craig Joseph, and I read through the literature on anthropology, on culture variation in morality and also on evolutionary psychology, looking for matches. What are the sorts of things that people talk about across disciplines, that you find across cultures and even across species? We found five — five best matches, which we call the five foundations of morality.

The first one is harm-care. We’re all mammals here, we all have a lot of neural and hormonal programming that makes us really bond with others, care for others, feel compassion for others, especially the weak and vulnerable. It gives us very strong feelings about those who cause harm. This moral foundation underlies about 70 percent of the moral statements I’ve heard here at TED.

The second foundation is fairness-reciprocity. There’s actually ambiguous evidence as to whether you find reciprocity in other animals, but the evidence for people could not be clearer. We heard about this from Karen Armstrong as the foundation of so many religions. That second foundation underlies the other 30 percent of the moral statements I’ve heard here at TED.

The third foundation is in-group loyalty. You do find groups in the animal kingdom — you do find cooperative groups — but these groups are always either very small or they’re all siblings. It’s only among humans that you find very large groups of people who are able to cooperate, join together into groups — but in this case, groups that are united to fight other groups. This probably comes from our long history of tribal living, of tribal psychology. And this tribal psychology is so deeply pleasurable that even when we don’t have tribes, we go ahead and make them because it’s fun. Sports is to war as pornography is to sex. We get to exercise some ancient, ancient drives.

The fourth foundation is authority-respect. Here you see submissive gestures from two members of very closely related species — but authority in humans is not so closely based on power and brutality, as it is in other primates. It’s based on more voluntary deference, and even elements of love, at times.

The fifth foundation is purity-sanctity. It’s about any kind of ideology, any kind of idea that tells you that you can attain virtue by controlling what you do with your body, by controlling what you put into your body. And while the political right may moralize sex much more, the political left is really doing a lot of it with food. Food is becoming extremely moralized nowadays, and a lot of it is ideas about purity, about what you’re willing to touch or put into your body.

I believe these are the five best candidates for what’s written on the first draft of the moral mind. I think this is what we come with at least, a preparedness to learn all of these things.


Daniel Goleman on compassion

in Psychology


There’s a new field in brain science, social neuroscience. This studies the circuitry in two people’s brains that activates while they interact. And the new thinking about compassion from social neuroscience is that our default wiring is to help. That is to say, if we attend to the other person, we automatically empathize, we automatically feel with them. There are these newly identified neurons, mirror neurons, that act like a neuro Wi-Fi, activating in our brain exactly the areas activated in theirs. We feel “with” automatically. And if that person is in need, if that person is suffering, we’re automatically prepared to help. At least that’s the argument.

But then the question is: Why don’t we? And I think this speaks to a spectrum that goes from complete self-absorption, to noticing, to empathy and to compassion. And the simple fact is, if we are focused on ourselves, if we’re preoccupied, as we so often are throughout the day, we don’t really fully notice the other. And this difference between the self and the other focus can be very subtle.

Some time ago when I was working for the New York Times, it was in the ’80s, I did an article on what was then a new problem in New York — it was homeless people on the streets. And I spent a couple of weeks going around with a social work agency that ministered to the homeless. And I realized seeing the homeless through their eyes that almost all of them were psychiatric patients that had nowhere to go. They had a diagnosis. It made me — what it did was to shake me out of the urban trance where, when we see, when we’re passing someone who’s homeless in the periphery of our vision, it stays on the periphery. We don’t notice and therefore we don’t act.

One day soon after that — it was a Friday — at the end of the day, I went down — I was going down to the subway. It was rush hour and thousands of people were streaming down the stairs. And all of a sudden as I was going down the stairs I noticed that there was a man slumped to the side, shirtless, not moving, and people were just stepping over him — hundreds and hundreds of people. And because my urban trance had been somehow weakened, I found myself stopping to find out what was wrong. The moment I stopped, half a dozen other people immediately ringed the same guy. And we found out that he was Hispanic, he didn’t speak any English, he had no money, he’d been wandering the streets for days, starving, and he’s fainted from hunger. Immediately someone went to get orange juice, someone brought a hotdog, someone brought a subway cop. This guy was back on his feet immediately. But all it took was that simple act of noticing. And so I’m optimistic.

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