What happened in Boston is terrible. No question. As is every other act of terror that happens every day around the globe - when an individual or small group is so filled with hatred for those different than themselves that they feel the only way to react is violence.
On a much smaller (and less violent) scale, we all deal with this every day ourselves. I struggle with this. I dismiss opinions from people I disagree with - from people who don't see MY view. I've unfollowed people on Twitter because of a Tweet that espoused a different take on a situation than mine. I've reacted to the Other with suspicion and disrespect and disregard.
I don't particularly like this about myself so I have been actively trying to become a more compassionate person. I was inspired by the winner of the 2008 TED Prize, Karen Armstrong. Armstrong's wish for her TED Prize was to launch the Charter for Compassion.
The Charter for Compassion is a document that transcends religious, ideological, and national differences. Supported by leading thinkers from many traditions, the Charter activates the Golden Rule around the world. The Charter for Compassion is a cooperative effort to restore not only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other, and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems.
To cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings, even those regarded as enemies. To make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world.
So, how do we become more compassionate?
I was given the advice once, in regards to management and innovation, that each month I should read a magazine that had nothing to do with my field of practice or interest. To pick up something like "Field Technicians Monthly" or "Sewage Treatment Quarterly". Because first and foremost they were about passion - and by reading about someone else's passion for their career might inspire some in my own. And also because great ideas about management and innovation can come from anywhere. To keep a sharp mind and open creative spirit, it is imperative to have a regular stream of new ideas and experiences available.
In my attempts to cultivate compassion, I've tried a similar tact. I need to have a regular inputs from people who are not like me. Now, I don't go out and read vitriolic blog posts or watch hate videos against my default position - because I don't think that is particularly constructive. I'm not trying to find new arguments .. I'm trying to find compassion. And frankly compassion is hard to find in the YouTube comment section. So, instead, I regularly read a blog about hijab fashion, beauty and entertainment for Muslim women: hijabtrendz
Started by Miriam Sobh, a broadcast journalist in Chicago, hijabtrendz covers hijab fashion trends (particularly international fashion) as well as reviews of makeup and beauty products. There are occasional eating and exercise tips. Plus, hijabtrendz has interviews with Muslim fashion designers and Muslim women in the entertainment industry. And occasionally she writes a thought-provoking piece like about the struggles of being a blogger and how to handle product reviews or calling attention to the bullying of Muslim women by other Muslim women.
I realise that this is a very small and simple thing that I do. But it reminds me on a regular basis that there are some many wonderful, amazing, delightful people in the world, Miriam Sobh, among them who have a different perspective and cultural experience on this world than I do. My experience is not the dominant one in the world. But it also serves to expand my attention span. There was an article in Wired recently about designer Adam Harvey who is working on a line of counter-surveillance fashion, called Stealth Wear, including, among other items, a hijab scarf that is designed to block thermal-imaging used by drones.
Which causes me to think, like the bullet-proof backpacks for kids that became popular after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown did, what are we doing as a global society where we have to create fashion lines and accessories that can protect us from random harm? That we feel we must anticipate violence.
I'm in my mid-40's - a long way from an idealistic college student. But on good days I think we can still change the world. But I know that change will come from the bottom up. From one person seeing another as a person and having empathy for them. Not seeing them as a faceless race or culture or religion or lifestyle, but to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
That is hard to do. It's counter to what media tells us, what politicians tell us, what some of our most entrenched institutions tell us. But to me, it's an essential project. Because just as compassion can expand our world, fear and anger can constrict it. And I want to live in a wonderfully diverse, expanding world.
As I was writing this, I came across a couple of other really interesting links that I wanted to share:
- Maggie Koerth-Baker (lady scientist extraordinaire and BoingBoing science editor and author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy) live blogged a talk at SUNY-Oswega by M. Neelika Jayawardane, an associate professor of English there. Jayawardane's lecture was on "If you see something, say something" and other campaigns aimed at getting average people involved in public security. Some really interesting ideas about what images and representations that we become used to seeing as The Other.
- Rolf Dobelli, author of The Art of Thinking Clearly: Better Thinking, Better Decisions, published an article in The Guardian today about why news is bad for you. "News is bad for your health. It leads to fear and aggression, and hinders your creativity and ability to think deeply. The solution? Stop consuming it altogether." Dobelli speaks (more eloquently and more thoroughly) to a couple of things I mention in my last paragraph above.