Tag Archive | Karen Armstrong

Human Rights and Compassion

October 16 is the annual Blog Action Day. Since 2007, bloggers have come together to write on an important issue. Past issues have included Poverty, Water, and Climate Change. The issue for 2013 is Human Rights.
I have had a separate page on this blog for the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. I also have a separate page dedicated to the Charter for Compassion. I believe human rights (the Declaration) and compassion (the Charter) are related and complementary. I believe that we need both human rights and compassion to achieve world peace.

Eleanor Roosevelt and Human Rights Declaration

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights came about following the atrocities of World War II. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948. Its drafters said:

Man’s desire for peace lies behind this Declaration. The realization that the flagrant violation of human rights by Nazi and Fascist countries sowed the seeds of the last world war has supplied the impetus for the work which brings us to the moment of achievement here today.

Charter for compassion logo


The Charter for Compassion came about from a TED Prize wish of comparative religion scholar and writer, Karen Armstrong. The Charter was developed by a Council of Conscience and was unveiled on November 12, 2009. Sister Joan Chittester,  a member of the Council, said:

In a world where force is too often the response to differences of opinion, culture and ideas of the divine, compassion is its one universal antidote. This Charter gives spiritual voices the opportunity to unite in this most authentic cry for peace.

I believe the Charter for Compassion is an important document-become-movement for our post 9-11 world.

The Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins thusly:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge, …

The Charter for Compassion begins this way:

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 centre of our world and put another there, and to honour 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.

The Declaration ends:

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

The Charter concludes:

We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre 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 believe we need to think in terms of both rights and compassion. We need both head and heart (and hands and feet, too) to achieve world peace. We do need rights in terms of law. We need them spelled out, stood upon, and accounted for. However, rights themselves can go only so far. We also need compassion and empathy. We need to think in terms of treating each other as we would wish to be be treated — the Golden Rule.

As I have said before, “I believe that a human being is a human being is a human being with all the rights and privileges thereof.” We should all be treated accordingly — even by nations, including my own.

I Declare World Peace.


More on The Butterfly’s Wings

This post continues my previous one regarding the recent spate of Muslim anti-American attacks sparked by an anti-Muslim video.

This past Sunday, September 16, Krista Tippet rebroadcast an interview of hers with Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of Great Britain on her American Public Media radio program called, On Being. She has called that particular program, The Dignity of Difference. The transcript is here and below is an exercpt of that conversation:

Ms. Tippett: You’ve made a statement I think is audacious: “The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities, discovering a genesis of hope.” Now as someone who conducts conversation for a living, I love that statement. I wonder how you know that to be true, that the antidote to violence is conversation.

Lord Sacks: Well, we’ve have in Judaism, you know, your listeners may find this hard to understand, especially in a religion where I’m promoting marriage and the family — we have a problem in Jewish religious divorce. For reasons we needn’t go into, a husband can withhold a divorce from a wife so that they may be civilly divorced and living apart, but the wife is unable to remarry. She’s really a living widow. We call her a chained woman, and I have to resolve those things.

In the end, the way we resolve them, the really hard cases, is actually just by listening. And that listening gives each of the two parties the feeling that they are heard, and once they’re heard, they can then begin to speak what they really feel. And then they can begin to realize that there are things they still care about in common, not perhaps enough to save their marriage, but certainly enough to remove the animosity from their divorce. It’s extraordinary how a simple act of sitting around a table and speaking and listening can actually solve cases that prove insoluble both by the civil and the religious courts. Likewise, in real conflict sense, you know, I’ve sat and talked to, you know, people who used to be Hamas terrorists …

Ms. Tippett: Really?

Lord Sacks: … and have become peace activists just because they saw, you know, how much of a dead end they were getting themselves into. I just see so much effort at peacemaking taking place at the very elite levels where, you know, egos can be rather larger than they need be and nobody really is willing to lose for the sake of long-term winning for both of us. Sometimes I think what would happen if we generated real conversations at the grassroots level between the people whose lives are really affected?

So it seems that deep listening  is needed as well as compassion, the Golden Rule, mindfulness, and speaking mentioned in my previous post.

To close this discussion, I end with a series of posts on Twitter that Karen Armstrong did tweet (on Monday, September 17) regarding the Muslim anti-American protests:

How can we apply the Golden Rule to the crisis in Libya & Cairo?

Look into your own heart, discover what gives you pain, and refuse under any circumstances to inflict this on anyone else…

If we feel pain when our own sacred traditions and heroes are dishonored, and our nation’s flags and embassies are attacked….

…then we cannot do this – even verbally – to others

The makers of the abuse film don’t represent America and the violent attackers don’t represent Islam

‘Use your own feelings as a guide to your treatment of others’ (Confucius)

I would say we all should use our butterfly wings in the right  and good way.

I Declare World Peace.

The Butterfly’s Wings

Pres. Obama & Sec. of State Clinton at transfer of remains ceremony for Benghazi attack

If we are neutral in situations of injustice,we have chosen the side of the oppressor (Desmond Tutu)

This quote was tweeted recently by Karen Armstrong. I am not sure if it applies directly to the recent spate of Muslim anti-American protests, some of them extremely violent. across the Muslim world, but I do  feel I should speak out.

I do denounce the violence and the deaths, all of them, associated with the protests. I denounce the video itself and the sentiments expressed therein. I also denounce some of the actions and policies of my own government that may have led to the protests.

What I have noticed is that one small action by an obscure group of individuals, especially one man, in one part of the world can cause havoc in many parts of the world. This seems to me to be associated with the butterfly effect, a term derived from chaos theory. Dictionary.com defines the butterfly effect as “a cumulatively large effect that a very small natural force may produce over a period of time.”

I am reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh’s coined term, interbeing. Wiktionary.org defines interbeing as “A state of connectedness and interdependence of all phenomena.” Thich Nhat Hanh says that we all “inter-are.”

I am sure that the man behind the video film trailer, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, did not have the butterfly effect or interbeing in mind when he made the film.

We are living in a time of interconnectedness. This has always been so, but is especially pronounced and prominent in our time of globalization and instant communication with the internet.

If compassion with the practice of the Golden Rule is ever needed it is now. Thich Nhat Hanh also teaches about mindfulness: about living in the present moment, about awareness. Mindfulness is also very needed now. We all must be vigilant. We all need to practice compassion, the Golden Rule, and mindfulness. We all also need to speak out and up for these things. Remember the butterfly’s wings.

I Declare World Peace.


Besides the Links above, see also ~


Anti-U.S. outrage over video began with Christian activist’s phone call to a reporter by Nancy A. Youssef and Amina Ismail, McClatchy Newspapers

From Rushdie to Stevens: This Madness Must Stop by Dr. Usama Hasan of the Quilliam Foundation, at the Huffington Post

Cultural Clash Fuels Muslims Angry at Online Video by David D. Kirkpatrick at the New York Times


In my next post, I have More on The Butterfly’s Wings.