Compassion has been a core virtue espoused by most religious, spiritual, and philosophical traditions for millennia. However, in the last couple of decades, it has received more focus due to the Dalai Lama, whose Buddhist lineage hold compassion as central, and to Karen Armstrong, who made her wish to form a Charter for Compassion the subject of her TED Award in 2008.
Heather Blenkinsop, who designed this website, was the first person to tell me about the Charter and ask whether the University of Edinburgh might become involved. That was in 2009, just after the international Council of Conscience, which Karen had convened, composed and published the actual Charter for Compassion.
Shortly thereafter, I signed the Charter and followed with great interest the formation of the Compassionate Action Network (CAN), which was established to develop global networks and resources focused on compassion. In 2010, CAN initiated the Compassionate Cities Campaign, and the City of Seattle, Washington, USA, where my son and daughter-in-law live, became the first city to formally sign the Charter.
That launched an international campaign for cities and communities around the world to endorse the Charter and utilize tools and processes, including Charter resources, to embed compassion in their philosophies, policies, and actions. Following more years of global growth, the Global Compassion Council, which had loosely overseen CAN, formed the Charter for Compassion organization. See www.charterforcompassion.org.
With that came the development of more networks and resources to support the co-creation not just of Compassionate Cities, but also, of Compassionate Schools and Universities, Compassionate Businesses, and compassion initiatives in other areas such as healthcare, art, environment, peace, social justice, religion and spirituality, women and girls, restorative justice, science and research, and social services.
The vision of the Charter is ‘a world where everyone is committed to living by the principle of compassion’. Its mission is ‘to support a global movement that brings the Charter for Compassion to life’.
It does this by being a ‘network of networks, connecting organizers and leaders around the world, providing educational resources, organizing tools, and avenues for communication; sharing lessons, stories, and inspiration; providing the umbrella of the Charter for Compassion for conferences, events, collaborations, conversations and initiatives to create compassionate communities and institutions’.
One of those networks is the UK Task Force for the Charter for Compassion, of which I have been a member for several years. Through that, I learned about Compassion Kinross in Scotland, Compassion Cornwall in England, and a variety of other compassion initiatives throughout the UK, which includes Northern Ireland. Ironically, I also discovered there were people in Omaha exploring the ‘Compassionate City’ option.
Before the Task Force, however, I started participating in compassion and empathy conferences and training programs in the UK and the USA. One of those programs was a five-day retreat/training with Joyce Rupp through the Institute of Compassionate Presence in Omaha. Now called Boundless Compassion, I plan to participate in their new facilitator training designed to carry this work forward.
Another was a conference sponsored by the Scientific and Medical Network in the UK. That’s where I first met Karen Armstrong, listened to Paul Gilbert, Iain McGilchrist, and other insightful speakers, and began learning more about how our brains are connected to compassion. It was exciting to discover such powerful connections between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ perspectives on compassion. A few years later, Iain McGilchrist came to speak at the University of Edinburgh.
While in the UK, I’ve continued to network and collaborate with University of Edinburgh compassion initiatives, including the What’s a University For? events on climate change and compassionate conversations, the Global Compassion Initiative through the Global Health Academy, and the Empathy Network.
Several of these networks came together in August of 2016, when Dr. James Doty, founder of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University AND Board Member of the Charter for Compassion, came to Edinburgh to promote his new book Into the Magic Shop.
Dr. Doty, along with people from the Global Compassion Initiative and Leadership in Education at the University of Edinburgh, the Kinross Compassion group, and the City of Edinburgh joined together for a meal to discuss the work all were involved in doing. It was a meaningful gathering.
As a result of my work as a Cultural Transformation Tools Facilitator through the Barrett Values Center, I was asked to contribute essays to a World Book of Values, which was published in 2013. The values I chose were spontaneity and compassion. Below is an excerpt from the compassion essay:
Compassion appears to grow out of a worldview in which all life is an interconnected whole. When part of the whole suffers, and I’ve done all I can to relieve or alleviate that suffering, I show compassion when I don’t withdraw, but still hold a space of loving presence and kindness. The word itself means to ‘be with’ (com) another in the suffering or pain (passion) the other is experiencing.
To do that, I must learn how to ‘walk in the shoes’, ‘see through the eyes’, or ‘feel from the heart’ of another, which is the core of empathy. However, I think compassion calls us beyond empathy to a place of non-judgment, nonviolence, non-attachment, and an openness of heart that recognizes we’ve done all we can do, but we can’t turn away.
In her book Compassion, Christina Feldman says, “The ultimate journey and skill of a human being is to discover how encompassing our hearts can be.” That is challenging, not easy.
Finally, my experience in multifaith and diversity of belief and values compels me to see this movement toward compassionate action as something that transcends ideological and dogmatic difference. As global citizens, it is what we need to inspire our lives and work as we co-create a globally just society rooted in compassion with right action for the common good.