Monday, November 16, 2009

The Charter for Compassion

This past week, Karen Armstrong, along with Desmond Tutu and other leaders, announced a campaign called the Charter for Compassion. The Charter for Compassion calls on the world community to adopt a global ethic of compassion based on what we often call the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

This moral guideline exists in virtually all of the world's religious traditions, which in itself is a rather remarkable fact. One question we might explore is how that came to be. There must be some deep resonance with our human nature and aspirations that is expressed in this simple maxim that does not belong to any one tradition, but to them all.

As Hans Küng and other religious leaders have passionately argued for years, the world urgently needs some kind of shared ethical framework. We are growing ever more interconnected, ever more part of the same village with everyone else on the planet. How are we going to live together on an ecologically and politically endangered planet without some common guideline for behavior? Karen Armstrong believes that compassion, as expressed in diverse ways that echo our Golden Rule, is the ethical guideline that can unite all of humanity.

The key to compassion is to set aside the selfishness and greed of our ego-centered tendencies and truly take seriously the needs of another. This dethroning of the ego has long been described as one of the ingredients of genuine spiritual experience. In compassion, we move beyond caring only about ourselves, and in so doing, discover a far wider world of meaning and satisfaction. We also find that our compassion is powerful and can change the world.

As we enter the festival season of the year, a season that takes compassion seriously, at least for a while, I invite you to explore the Charter for Compassion. You can find it at As the world searches for some way to find common ground, this ancient approach may point the way out of our confusion toward hope.


  1. This is a cool idea. It's might just be simple enough to work! This was a pretty widely used term/concept when I was growing up in the Methodist Church. Lost its marketability somewhere in the late 50s and 60s, I guess. Here's another - "Grace". Haven't heard that for a while, either. Though at a recent conference I attended addressing conditions for elders in nursing homes, it was used several times to define a good nursing home setting. Grace = everything is right. Fits. Good blog, Michael.

  2. JDSavoyards,
    The idea of the golden rule also provides an insightful lens for envisioning a nursing home, namely how would we like to be treated if and when we arrive as a resident. I do not want to be treated in the manner of some homes I have visited, but in some others I think I might feel comfortable.
    I also like the idea of grace, that feeling that everything is right. When caring is thoughtful and compassionate, we feel that grace.
    Thanks for your comment.