Back in 2008, Karen Armstrong, a religion scholar gave a TED talk. In it, she proposed a movement by multi-faith, multi-national groups which would promote compassion worldwide by activating the Golden Rule. Her idea led to the development of the Charter for Compassion. The Council of Conscience, consisting of representatives of many faiths and many national groups, together with input from thousands who responded online resulted in the current Charter for Compassion. The goal of the Charter is to highlight common ground amongst all major religions and all religious traditions. Specifically, they all share compassion and the Golden Rule.
Since that time, tens of thousands have signed the Charter online. Public events, discussions, and readings of the Charter have taken place bringing compassion more and more into public awareness. Now it’s our turn. This is a call to action to connect to the heart and manifest a bigger Truth than any one of us. How Karen’s idea takes form (or fails to take form) depends on our actions. I don’t really know what my part in this will be and I don’t know what your role is either. I’ve read and signed the Charter and brought it into my consciousness. Now it’s your turn. Here’s the Charter.
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 centre of our world and put another there, and to honour 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 centre 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.
My son’s home from university and one of our conversations turned to the economy and how hard it is to find even part-time, entry level work. He’s sent out something like 80 applications, done some interviews, and over the course of months, has just recently landed something part-time. The talk eventually wound around to the idea that my husband and I are post materialists. Now that’s not a term I know and my son delights in sharing what he has learned. As a parent, I love these times when the kids get to educate me. “So what are your girlfriend’s parents then?” I ask him. “Materialists”, he answers as if I should already know that. I actually did know that.
Anyway, further investigation on my part revealed that Ronald Inglehart developed the idea of post materialism in the 1970s as a sociological theory to explain an ongoing transformation of individual values within a society. He argued that as western nations achieved a level of economic prosperity and physical security, its members transformed their values seeking more autonomy and self-expression. Ah, this sounds a lot like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As people meet their basic survival requirements, we move up the pyramid until we are striving for self-actualization. Maslow confined his theory to how individuals are transformed and Inglehart wanted to see how societies as a whole might be transformed.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, created by J. Finkelstein, 2006
So to be a post materialist, you must first meet your basic survival needs (food, shelter, security). OK, done. Once that is accomplished you move up Maslow’s hierarchy and as you do, you start to realize you’re no happier than when you were struggling. This brings to mind Daniel Gilbert’s book, Stumbling on Happiness. I believe it was in that book that I first learned American happiness peakedin the 1950s. BEFORE I WAS BORN! Sixty plus years later, we have higher incomes, higher levels of education, better health care, bigger houses, more cars but we are less happy overall. Remember when we were told (and believed) that he (or she) who has the most toys wins? We played the game, we toed the line, we consumed and bought all the right stuff, we competed with the Joneses, and we became… less happy. Maybe we were even miserable because the promise of happiness slipped away as we had to go looking for a storage shed to rent for all the loot that was supposed to make us positively giddy.
We looked around and saw it wasn’t working. We stopped playing the game. We got rid of the excess stuff and looked inside to see what would fill the void. We began to talk about “downsizing”. The value shift from possessing things to experiencing and self- expression took hold.
Inglehart recognized that younger people (raised in economic security) were more likely to identify with the values of post materialism. But older people who were raised with the struggle of material existence may or may not shift out of that paradigm. Actually, Inglehart’s ideas remain controversial. Surprisingly, we don’t have good statistical information to measure value changes in the US. The World Value Survey of 2000 (Wikipedia) did give some indication of post materialism worldwide. The highest percentage of post materialists were found to be in Australia with 35%. Canada has 29% while the US has 25 % of the population being post materialist.
So being a minority in the US, I will be moving this year and continuing my efforts to downsize. I will continue to reject the notion that he who has the most toys wins. I will refuse to believe that my worth as an individual comes solely from consuming. I will pursue balance and harmony. And I will remember happiness is a choice for the post materialist and materialist alike. Happy 2013!
I’m working on a new novel that will highlight what happened at a remote fortress in southern France in 1244. A group known today as Cathars, the most successful of the heretical sects of the Middle Ages, had spent a year under siege by Catholic forces. Eventually the Cathars surrendered and, after refusing to renounce their faith, 220 people were burned at the foot of Montsegur. Fire exterminated dissent.
The 53rd anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising is fast approaching (March 10, 1959). 2011 was witness to a transfer of power from His Holiness Dalai Lama to secular political rule. At the same time, the harsh crackdowns of 2008 continue within Tibet. Increasingly we are seeing more and more incidents of self immolation being reported. Here fire is a symbol of protest and individual sacrifice. Since 2009, 27 Tibetans have killed themselves in this manner. In a culture known for non-violence and compassion, no suicide bombers have emerged. But there is a growing sense that things are changing and the old ways aren’t working. Young Tibetans may push for more radical protests and, if Beijing continues to respond in the same old ways, things may continue to escalate. Of course, even in dire circumstances there is a chance that leaders on both sides will see the need to change direction and find a way toward compromise. Perhaps the new leadership in China will see that now is the time to embrace the Dalai Lama and use this opportunity to ensure peace.