This is the season for compassionate action

December 23, 2009

Home Columns Books Talks About me Contact me



In this holiday time leading up to Christmas many people practice the custom of sending greetings of “peace and joy” to friends and loved ones. That is certainly a worthwhile practice but I suggest a different greeting this season in light of all the hardship caused by our economic situation.

            People out of work or defaulting on their mortgage or homeless do not need our words of good cheer but active participation in their lives. Many people do that through contributions to the Salvation Army bell ringers, Open Door, Habitat for Humanity,  and other worthwhile organizations that help those in need. But I suggest we need to raise our consciousness to a new level by embracing compassion as a way of life that undergirds all of our actions.

Matthew Fox wrote in A Spirituality Named Compassion, “Compassion is not an abstraction but an entry into our own and others’ pain.” The root meaning of the word is “suffering with”. We can’t suffer with someone by sending a greeting card. It requires action. Fox continued, “Biblical compassion is not condescension, it is unreserved commitment to the weak, the poor, the oppressed.” Fox fleshes out the meaning of the word love by translating it as compassion. And so he quotes Hosea 6:6 “what I want is compassion, not sacrifice, knowledge of God, not holocausts.” The Gospel and letters of John as well as St. Paul repeat this message.

            Quite often the word pity or mercy is used to translate the Hebrew or Greek word in the above references. Unfortunately neither carries the full meaning. Fox says “what is missing in all these translations is the dimension of action which the Hebrew word implies.” 

Karen Armstrong, one of the leading authorities on world religions, has written more than 20 books about religion. She was one of the first the media contacted after 9/11 to ask about Islam. In her book, The Great Transformation, she contends with much supporting evidence that all the major world religions and Greek philosophy began with a major component of compassion.  This is shown in the near universality of the Golden Rule in various religions and philosophies (1):

·   Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful."

·   Christianity:   “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.”

·   Confucianism:  "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you"

·   Hinduism:   This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.

·   Humanism: "Don't do things you wouldn't want to have done to you.”

·   Islam: "None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself."

·   Judaism: "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

·   Native American Spirituality: "Do not wrong or hate your neighbor. For it is not he who you wrong, but yourself."

·   Roman Pagan Religion: "The law imprinted on the hearts of all men is to love the members of society as themselves."

·   Taoism:  "The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful."

·   Unitarian Universalism:  "We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."

·   Socrates: "Do not do to others that which would anger you if others did it to you." Followers of the founders of those religions and philosophies lost that element of compassion, Armstrong wrote, and it is time to move our polarized world back to compassion. She has spearheaded a drive to make our world more compassionate. More than 100 people from around the world and from various religious affiliations have joined her in this cause. On the Charter for Compassion website is the document about Compassion. All are urged to affirm support of this Charter. Add your name The signatures will be given to the leaders of all nations involved in war at this time. The website also suggests other ways to learn and promote compassion, such as forming a discussion group. Videos are on the website to aid discussion. During this season and 2010 I invite you to join the Charter for Compassion and together we can make a difference in the world. Merry Christmas!


(1) There are more than 20 quotes at this site.


Affirm the Charter Today

As we close a decade marked by war, help us usher in a decade focused on compassion.


The names of all affirmers on December 31 will be sent along with the Charter for Compassion to 5 world leaders whose countries are engaged in conflict.  33110 have signed as of December 31.


Add your name. Each additional name makes the compassionate voice a more potent force in the world. Let us make the silent majority a challenge to extremism and hatred.


And please, share the Charter with five friends and encourage them to add their name as well.  


Discuss compassion with family and friends

As you gather together with friends and family over the next couple of months, we encourage you to take some time to sit and discuss the Charter for Compassion as a group...   

The website is



There were no responses to this column on line.

A couple friends told me they thought it was really good.