In searching for answers to big questions like the origin of the universe, science often strives for the simplest most elegant theories to the most complex of questions. If you look at the state of people in the world in this way, you have quite a complex problem as well. From education, to health care, to poverty, the world is rife with situational problems, questions of context, complexity, interrelations of issues that burden every action with unforeseeable ramifications. In a world where we find ourselves trying to work on specific issues, plugging holes and putting out fires, compassion may be one such simple solution to the most complex of problems.
I really started thinking about this lately while contemplating the wishes, resolutions and potentials of what could be a historical (and beautiful) new year, 2010. But it began with a project called The Charter for Compassion. It's an effort to restore compassionate thinking -- and, even more importantly, compassionate action -- to the center of our lives. The actual charter is the realization of comparative religion authority Karen Armstrong's TED Prize wish and is a collaboratively written document by the public and authorities from various religious and moral codes. It's a bold attempt to capture one of the most powerful forces of humanity -- so powerful exactly because of that humanity, its universality and its connective nature.
In its basic explanation, it is the golden rule, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. That sounds simple, but that is precisely the point. That single rule, if held firmly, causes a ripple effect by leveraging the individual actions of the many people following it. It means maintaining empathy, understanding the culture and context of others, understanding the impact of your actions and taking steps to act accordingly. That, by nature, means living more sustainably, purchasing more responsibly, being kinder to those around you and refusing to be a part of unethical behavior in the work place.
The most unique part about compassion is that the process demands individuals to figure things out for themselves. We live in a world that's bombarded with messaging about how you should behave, what you should like and value. Compassion is a reset button. One that demands putting aside what you've been told and taking a fresh look at each situation. It's as much an examination of self as of others because it asks us to strip ourselves of everything we have and find definition from by imagining ourselves in the place of another and, in doing so, reconnects us with our most fundamental human nature.
It all starts with that self: individuals, realizing our connection to the world, our relationship to it and our own impact on it. Of course, we can't possibly (and shouldn't) constantly think about all the problems of the world all the time. It's difficult to even live the rule in a globalized economy where a million inputs from around the world go into every product, function, and action (active or passive) of our day-to-day lives. But we can begin to ask questions, begin to act accordingly, and begin by taking care of our own backyards and ourselves. If everyone did that, the most complex of problems might be answered.
Don't just read, but affirm the need for compassionate action in the world and make it the center of your own action. Check out the Charter for Compassion and affirm it today.
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