Make America Compassionate Again

Two weeks ago, James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old unemployed home inspector and disgruntled Democratic supporter from southern Illinois, opened fired on Republican representatives who were practicing for a charity baseball game just outside Washington D.C. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others were wounded before capitol police shot the gunman.

While the scene could have been a much greater tragedy had it not been for capitol police — acting as security for Scalise — mass shootings are becoming commonplace.

For the next several days, Republicans and Democrats came forward to talk about toning down the combative rhetoric that has permeated Washington and the rest of the country. One suggestion on how to implement that idea could be for all of us, not just lawmakers, to more actively practice compassion.

Several months ago, I signed The Charter for Compassion.

“In 2008,” the website writes, “Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize for her wish to create a Charter for Compassion. Thousands of people contributed to the process and the Charter was unveiled in November 2009. Since then, the Charter has inspired community-based acts of compassion all over the world. From Seattle to Karachi, Houston to Amsterdam, in schools, houses of worship, city governments, and among individuals everywhere, the message of the Charter is transforming lives.”

Armstrong’s “wish” came true as a formal declaration in which anyone… ANYONE can sign on to support:

“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 center of our world and put another there, and to honor 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 center 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.” 

I cannot help but believe that if all of us sent a copy to our local and national representatives, it would be an important first step in encouraging not only a more civil society, but a more collaborative one, as well.

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