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06 February 2011

Karen Armstrong wishes for a compassionate world

Striving for a global democracy, known British author Karen Armstrong in Islamabad made a strong case for dedicatedly working for a compassionate society to “alleviate suffering of our fellow creatures”.
Compassion is not feeling “pity” for others, but to “discover what gives us pain, and then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict that pain on anybody else,” she told an audience of academicians and students at the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) on Tuesday. Her talk on `The need for a compassionate society` was arranged by AIESEC, a students` organisation working for developing leadership skills.
When Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED), a non-profit organisation known for its conferences on `ideas worth spreading`, gave its prize to Armstrong in 2008, she was also to make a `wish` and then work to make it come true. Her wish was for a better world. “I immediately knew what I wanted. 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.”
She began working on the Charter for Compassion, created online with input from hundreds of people and crafted by leading thinkers in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The charter was signed in November 2009 by religious and secular leaders. It is based on the Golden Rule – “Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you” or in its positive form: “Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself”. Armstrong said all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions call “to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.”
But in a highly polarised and violent world, “can compassion heal the seemingly intractable problems of our time. Armstrong believes it can, terming it inseparable from humanity.
But for that to happen, everyone has to work constantly, dedicating themselves to compassion, which for her can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries.
“We must strive for a global democracy, in which everybody, not only the rich and powerful, has a voice and which takes everybody`s needs and aspirations with the utmost seriousness and respect.”
She said today the world is connected – electronically, economically and politically – as never before. “Our financial markets are inextricably connected: when one falls, there is a ripple effect worldwide. What happens in Afghanistan or Iraq today may well have repercussions tomorrow in New York or London.”
This provides choices – choices for continuing to live in a polarised world or work for bringing change for peace and harmony.
“Our world has become dangerously polarised and many of our policies – political, economic, financial and environmental – seem no longer sustainable. We can either choose the aggressive and exclusive tendencies that have developed in practically all religious and secular traditions or we can cultivate compassion, empathy, respect and an impartial `concern for everybody`.”
She said as the world was suffering, inaction was no longer an option. “We have the power to work together energetically for the wellbeing of humanity, and counter the despairing extremism of our time. Many of us have experienced the power of compassion in our own lives; we know how a single act of kindness and empathy can turn a life around. History also shows that the action of just a few individuals can make all the difference. In a world that seems spinning out of control, we need such action now.”
Her book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, setting out a programme of a journey towards a more compassionate life, was also launched on Tuesday.
Her other book A Letter to Pakistan , discussing compassion in Islamic context, will be published in the coming week. Armstrong is in Pakistan on a series of lectures and working with individuals and organisations to promote the concept of becoming compassionate. In Pakistan she looks forward to engaging schools for developing curricula on compassion, higher educational institutions to conduct courses and studies, social organisations to create awareness in masses and corporate organisations to work for a compassionate environment at their workplaces. “Anyone can join us for the sake of themselves and for the sake of a better world.

From the Newspaper, By Daud Malik,