That’s why individual people should
reach out instead. I always wonder if
there will be enough of that to save the
day. I’m not convinced there will be,
but that’s my greatest hope.
KK: Even Darwin noted that
compassion and collaboration are built
into evolution—we’re programmed to
want to work together.
KA: Yes, and for the longest phase
of human history—thousands of
years—we were hunter-gatherers. In
those societies, everybody was equal
because everybody had to share the
same inadequate resources. That’s
all lost once you have huge divisions
between rich and poor. But that sense
of fairness and justice that we all have
in our hearts, we probably inherited
that from our hunter-gatherer past.
KK: That reminds me of something you
said in your TED talk—that the reason
compassion is so important is simply
because it works.
KA: Yes, because if cultivated properly,
compassion creates a spirit of equality.
Flagrant inequality is at the heart
of most of our problems today,
including terrorism. There’s massive
inequity with the immigrants trying
to come over to Europe because their
countries are in such disarray and
we won’t have them. Compassion
demands that you strike down such
superiority and put yourself on the
same level. That’s when things open
up and develop, not when you’re
being pitying, merciful, or—God
forbid—tolerant. Tolerant is a word we
should expunge from our vocabulary.
“To tolerate” means to put up with
something. It’s the language of the
victor. Compassion is better because it
puts you on the same level as others.
The truth is we simply can’t live
without each other.
Karen Armstrong, ambassador for the United Nations Alliance
of Civilizations, is the author of more than two dozen books, including
the New York Times best-seller A History of God: The 4,000-Year
Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Ballantine, 1993). She
lives in London and travels internationally speaking on world
religions and the importance of creating a compassionate society.
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 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.
To sign the charter, visit charterforcompassion.org.