Compassion provides the means by which we walk a mile in each other’s shoes and learn to value our common humanity enough to invest in its immense potential. This is something many of us know very well, but which a lot of people choose to avoid for different reasons.
One motive behind the choice to sidestep this awareness is because when walking, or recognizing the value of, the path of another person’s life we sometimes discover tracks leading back to our own door. When such trails take us to the beginning of a joyful or healing experience in someone else’s life, it is easy to smile at the revelation and quietly celebrate the triumph.
But if they guide us to a point of disempowering trauma which our actions, words, or biases helped trigger in the existence of an individual or the collective being of a nation, acknowledging one’s role in the creation of their suffering can become more difficult. Apply this idea to a variety of scenarios and we begin to see why many might have a problem approaching situations from a perspective based on compassion:
Shaka Senghor and the Transformational Power of Compassion
A second reason someone might hesitate to embrace exercising compassion as a basic component of their daily practices is the perceived price we pay when holding ourselves accountable for causes as well as effects. That price may be viewed as an existential risk, or a stress-laden sacrifice that could comprise anything from hard-earned financial resources to time-consuming labor and fragile relationships.
Why? Because practicing compassion in the 21st century means going beyond logging accusations of social, political, or domestic injustices, and taking the additional step of volunteering ways to correct them. Holding oneself accountable for producing a healing or restorative effect upon deteriorating lives or conditions can be a difficult thing to do. And yes: a challenging sacrifice to make.
Settling into the Year 2017
As the world settles into 2017, opposition opposed to presidential administrations even before they get underway, war-hawks eager to assert dominance over distant lands, increasing disease, and expanding poverty provide many opportunities for modeling what President Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. Taking the risks and confronting the agonies, however, is not something we do to proclaim ourselves as heroic or saintly. We do it in answer to the needs and demands of our times, following the examples set by so many before this present hour.
For men and women to comfortably adapt to a state of nihilistic indifference is to declare hope itself a sad delusion and compassion a spiritual fantasy. None of us are wealthy enough to pay such a fatal cost.
We declare a partnership in mindfulness with citizens of the global community because these words remain true: Compassion saves lives, builds communities, and restores nations by minimizing tendencies to glamorize hatred, and by maximizing the capacity for manifesting love. Compassion––keeps hope alive.
January 1, 2017
Bright Skylark Literary Productions
“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.” –The Charter for Compassion
You could say I recently received a double dose of compassion. The first came in the form of a friendly reminder from fellow wordsmith Barbara Kaufmann that the founder of the Charter for Compassion movement, Karen Armstrong, was going to be a guest on Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday program. The second came in the form of a photograph of the late much-loved actor Paul Walker assisting a group of children. Reach Out Worldwide, the organization founded by Walker, had paired the image with one of my quotes about compassion back in September and it resurfaced on Twitter and Facebook following Walker’s tragic death.
1. Paul Walker
For many, the death of the late actor and humanitarian was a shock as well as a revelation. It was a shock partly because he was so young and partly because people generally prefer Hollywood scenarios where the beautiful heroes and heroines triumph over brutal opposition rather than succumb to it. Most––would prefer that reality were a better respecter of persons. But it––like gravity, time, or disease––is not. Reality as we live it most often takes on qualities like mercy, grace, and yes, dynamic compassion, when we choose to endow it with such powerful elements.
Walker’s death was a revelation in the sense that millions recognized him from his action-hero, dramatic, and comedic roles in an acting career that spanned almost the entirety of his 40-years-long life. What millions did not know was that he did much more than lend Reach Out Worldwide his name. He gave it his living presence in dedicated attempts to alleviate suffering in the lives of others. It is neither a sentimental statement nor an exaggerated one to say that Walker apparently chose to commit as much of himself––not just his money or his time or talents but HIMSELF–– to living as much compassion as he could. Surely that is one of the better ways anyone might wish to be remembered.
2. Karen Armstrong
I first became aware of Karen Armstrong in my days as a bookseller. Her publication of such audaciously-titled works as Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (1991) and A History of God (1993) were also revelatory. It seemed unlikely that anyone should come up with anything new to say about spirituality or religious practices after centuries of human beings seeking to overcome human tragedies through studied devotion to the ways of Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, different schools of philosophy, and other disciplines. However, as a former nun whose writings sidestepped culture clashes to affirm the essential spiritual unity of the major religious traditions (much in fact the way definitive passages in Rumi’s poetry does) Armstrong had a great deal to say.
And she did so even as calls for “holy wars” in the form of terrorist attacks and retaliations in the form of full-scale military battles soaked the opening pages of the history of the 21st century with the blood of men, women, and children alike. Upon receiving the TED Prize in 2008, she shared with the world her vision of compassion as a tool for nonviolent conflict resolution:
“I wish that you would help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion, crafted by a group of leading inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and based on the fundamental principles of universal justice and respect.”
As ironic as it may sound, I was, unknowingly, so immersed in service to a similar vision through Creative Thinkers International and diverse literary endeavors that I remained unaware of the charter for far too long. The really great news is that although the charter itself has already been composed by contributors from across the globe, the perfect time to charge ahead on the “propagation” aspect of Armstrong’s request by sharing and signing it is right now. With that in mind, I consider it not an honor but an extraordinary blessing to add my name to the ever-growing list of supporters for the Charter for Compassion.
“We are the mirror as well as the face in it.
War is an addiction to chaos that shreds human souls into tattered rags of trauma. In acknowledgement of Rumi’s 806th birthday, I’m all for Syria, Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, and all other countries and organizations at war with each other to exchange their guns and bombs for poems by Mevlana. Replace tanks and drones with open mics and let everyone brave enough go at it. Whoever spits the most verses, quatrains, long poems, or quotes by Rumi wins the right to proclaim peace and throw a feast in honor of sanity, brotherhood, sisterhood, and childhood.
Is that likely to happen? No, not very, but the ecstatic beauty and soulful grace of Rumi’s poetry inspires human hearts to believe in possibilities beyond the predictably fatal. So does the Herculean effort it took for him to produce the works for which the world now reveres him: the ever-astonishing Masnavi, his discourses, the Divan of Shams of Tabriz, and various letters and sermons.
As one of his most celebrated translators, Coleman Barks, has noted with amazement, Rumi seems to have composed no less than a dozen poems every single day for the final 12 years of his extraordinary life. Within that incandescent corpus are works that address nearly aspect of what it means to be human and what it could mean to embrace life with a sense of divine co-creation. This last idea, in modern terms, is much less mystical than some might think when considering the environmentalist concept of people as stewards of the earth rather abusers of it. (continues below after video)
Rumi’s legacy is one of many that remind us there are options to giving violence control over our individual and collective destinies. Moreover, life- and history-altering transformations can take place when we least expect them to occur. One such transformation in Rumi’s life was when he met Shams of Tabriz, the man whose influence is generally cited as the catalyst that caused Rumi to evolve into a whirling light of divinely-inspired creative genius. For those who daily discover and rediscover his work, it sometimes happens with the sudden realization that the idea of “us versus them” may be less accurate––and far less important–– than the idea that not only are “we also them” but “they are also us.”
Sept 30, 2013
Quote by Aberjhani with original digital MLK poster: “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was a manifestation of hope that humanity might one day get out of its own way by finding the courage to realize that love and nonviolence are not indicators of weakness but gifts of significant strength.” --Aberjhani
Different roads provide diverse routes to freedom. For many, the path is an interior one. It first requires an individual to the clear from the landscape of inner beingthose areas overgrown with woody thickets of doubt and trauma or buried beneath swamplands of self-imposed limitations.
There are others––like the Americans who struggled for civil rights in the 1960s, and citizens of the Middle East and various African countries currently battling for basic human rights–– who take a more public journey to freedom. Their sense and experience of liberty is defined by interaction with the external dictates of history, evolving cultural persuasions, and dominant political trends. Individuals such as these inspired the article Text and Meaning in Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech.
Whether the journey is undertaken within or without, the impulse to demand, claim, and exercise freedom ––not just as a politicized human right but as a fundamental tenet of human existence–– is as automatic as gulping air when first leaving the womb. It therefore is not particularly surprising that the King Center in Atlanta has chosen to conclude its 50th anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech with a “Let Freedom Ring” international bell-ringing event at 3 p.m. on August 28.
“We are calling on people across America and throughout the world to join with us as we pause to mark the 50th anniversary of my father’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech with ‘Let Freedom Ring’ bell-ringing events and programs that affirm the unity of people of all races, religions and nations,” said King Center C.E.O. Bernice A. King in a news release from the Center.
When considering in 2013 the horrendous number of people who have died in Syria’s civil war over the past several years, those who have lost their lives to domestic gun violence in the United States over the past several decades, and writers and artists who are persecuted daily in different countries for “speaking truth to power,” the idea of ringing bells in the name of freedom might strike some as ludicrous. It is, however, this insistence upon liberty in the face of weighted oppression that has always given self-determination its strength and value.
Freedom rings bells because throughout history silence has too often served as an accomplice to genocide, slavery, and other forms of barbarity.It rings bells to remind humanity that the most precious gifts in life––like children and love and time––must never be taken for granted. Freedom rings bells to wake us from the comfort of beautiful dreams and empower the efforts that turn them into reality.
“A vision of humanity as a unified force for peace had come alive in the form of millions of living breathing souls and an ideal of international democracy had been realized on a small but unprecedented scale. History was not only made––history was tremendously honored.” – from The American Poet Who Went Home Again (Aberjhani)
During this Easter Holy Week 2013, I find myself thinking about the challenges that Peace faces in our world and wonder why humanity seems to insist more on its destruction than its empowerment. From the recent murder of a 13-month-old baby in Brunswick, Georgia (allegedly by a 15-year-old boy), to the nearly two dozen wars (plus two dozen more conflicts of a similar nature) currently devouring human sanity from sunrise to sunrise, the suicidal lust for the annihilation of life on every scale is scarier than any vampire flick around.
Is there anything more obscene than a non-stop hunger for, and ceaseless indulgence in, the real-world violence that piles up human corpses and mutilates human souls? The answer may be a matter of cultural guerrilla decontextualization. The conscious practice of Peace has been removed from its context as one of the qualifications for nations wishing to be define themselves as civilized and been re-branded as an anomaly indicating defeatist passivity, cowardice, or weakness. The violence of war has come to represent patriotism, heroism, strength, and glory.
We saw on the weekend of February 15, 2003, that it is as possible to wage peace as it is to wage war. For some odd reason, however, while the media frequently reminds people of the anniversaries of wars and other man-made atrocities, commemorations of that worldwide event are so thoroughly ignored that even many who participated in it might doubt it actually happened. The announcement of the Global March for Peace and Unity scheduled to coincide with the United Nations’ International Day of Peace September 21, 2013, served as a reminder that what happened in 2003 was both real and significant. The essay “February 15, 2003: The History that Peace Made,” published in The American Poet Who Went Home Again, was written as the event unfolded to honor the strength and courage demonstrated by those who challenged the presumption that war with Iraq was the only useful response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. The following short excerpt is shared to acknowledge the legacies of Peace and advocate for its unwavering defense:
(from section V.)
The estimated 8 million people who demanded of the world, from February 14 to February 16, that peace be given a chance were a lot more difficult to ignore than other events leading up to the historical occasion and every major television network provided extended coverage of the worldwide phenomenon. That the world community had spoken so voluminously and unambiguously through so many made it easy to believe that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines moving toward Baghdad would soon receive orders to execute an about face. It appeared the most indisputably intelligent and democratic course of action available. Only it never happened. History, under the guidance of those clamoring for war, took the road so often traveled in the past.
(CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO)
Video courtesy of WLTNews and CNN on YouTube
Statements from the White House regarding the overwhelming strength of the peace movement were at best patronizing; and at worst, patronizing. They acknowledged that the right to assembly––guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in the United States and in many other countries by their constitutions and bills of human rights––was a wonderful, and perhaps amusing, thing to behold. It was pointed out that such an activity was not guaranteed in Iraq and could result in imprisonment or death for those attempting to exercise it. And it was further made clear that such demonstrations, despite the good intentions behind them, were erroneous insofar as their political applications and implications were concerned. The message that came through more than any other was that millions of children had successfully thrown their tantrums and should now be put quietly to bed. Democracy as practiced in the United States during the early part of 2003 had become, apparently, much more a matter of bending and disregarding the will of the people than representing or expressing it.
If the bodies and souls of 8 million people were not sufficient to sway national policy on war against Iraq, what, then, was the meaning of such a massive uprising? Was it truly a matter of nothing more than overgrown misinformed juveniles venting fear and frustration as implied by White House officials? Could it have been part of a terrorist counter-tactic to weaken the United States’ war plans? Or was the international character of the movement an indication of a new form of global democracy evolving out of the fellowship established between like-minded individuals over the Internet?
It may be that the best answer to the meaning of February 14-16, 2003, was offered by the former assistant secretary general of the United Nations, Dr. Robert Muller, later chancellor emeritus of the University of Peace in Costa Rico. Addressing an assembly a month after the massive demonstrations in San Francisco, Dr. Muller observed of the millions marching all over earth that, “This is what waging peace looks like. No matter what happens, history will record that this is a new era, and the twenty-first century has been initiated with the world in a global dialogue looking deeply, profoundly and responsibly as a global community at the legitimacy of the actions of a nation that is desperate to go to war. Through these global peace-waging efforts, the leaders of that nation are being engaged in further dialogue, forcing them to rethink, and allowing all nations to participate in the serious and horrific decision to go to war or not.”
He may have added that these gallant warriors of nonviolence were doing something their countrymen who controlled the popular media had clearly refused to do: they were making peace visible. And by accomplishing that, despite the roar of death and destruction well underway, they succeeded, for a time, in making peace real.
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.