Charter for compassion gains support

More than 85,000 individuals, organisations and cities have now signed up to endorse the Charter for Compassion, a document that aims to inspire compassionate action around the world

Claiming to embody a principle that is at the heart of all religious, ethical, and spiritual traditions, the Charter for Compassion calls us to always treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves.

The document states: “Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity,” adding that it is a necessary resource in creating “a just economy and a peaceful global community.”

Recent signatories include the Canadian city of London, Ontario, which has a population of 350,000 and is the first official Compassionate City in Canada and also includes the first school to formally endorse the charter. Meanwhile, Spalding University in Louisville, US, is the first university in the world to be designated a Compassionate University.

Internationally, there are over 70 cities and regions working towards official adoption of the Compassionate City status, from New Delhi in India to Nottingham in the UK. Governing bodies in each city will work with citizens to develop means of cooperation and empowerment.

The charter calls for empathy with the suffering of all human beings – even those regarded as enemies – as well as for accurate information to be given to young people in order to encourage a “positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity.”

Physical and spoken acts of violence, as well as the exploitation or denial of people’s basic rights, are condemned in the document as it urges us to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion. Any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate, it states.

“One of the chief tasks of our time must surely be to build a global community in which all peoples can live together in mutual respect,” explains the founder of the charter, Dr Karen Armstrong, in her book Twelve Steps to A Compassionate Life, published in 2011. “Yet religion,” she continues, “which should be making a major contribution, is seen as part of the problem. All faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality and that it brings us into relation with the transcendence we call God, Brahman, Nirvana or Dao.”

In her book, Karen looks at religious history alongside neuroscience and finds that our brains have evolved for us to be caring and to need care. By investigating our enemies, knowing their history and participating in dialogue, we can stop the vicious cycles of attack and counterattack, Karen believes.

“We need to create a world democracy in which everybody’s aspirations are taken seriously,” she says. “In the last resort, this kind of ‘love’ and ‘concern for everybody’ will serve our best interests better than short sighted policies.”

A former nun, acclaimed theologian, historian and author, Karen received a TED Award (Technology, Entertainment and Design) in 2008, which enabled her to create the charter. As well as the $100,000 prize, Karen was also granted a ‘wish for a better world’, which TED would help her fulfil.

“I asked TED to help me create, launch and propagate a Charter for Compassion that would be written by leading thinkers from a variety of major faiths and would restore compassion to the heart of religious and moral life,” explains Karen.

Members of the public – of any or of no faith – were invited to help shape to the charter. Through the project’s website, more than 150,000 people from 180 countries were involved in submitting and commenting upon contributions. Drawing on this input, an interfaith group of religious leaders then crafted the final charter.