Charter puts a new face on the Golden Rule
Karen Armstrong and Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Cape Town/London - On 27 September at the Vancouver Peace Summit, amongst
some of the world’s most well-known peace-makers–including Nobel Prize
winners and internationally-acclaimed authors–we had the opportunity to
invite people everywhere to rediscover the Golden Rule.
The Charter of Compassion was composed by leading thinkers from many
different faiths. It is a cooperative effort to restore not only
compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the
centre 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.
Why is this so important?
One of the most urgent tasks of our generation is to build a global
community where men and women of all races, nations and ideologies can live
together in peace. Religion, which should be making a major contribution to
this endeavour, is often seen as part of the problem. All too often, the
voices of extremism drown out those of kindness, forbearance and mutual
respect. Yet the founders of each of the great religious traditions rejected
the violence of their time and sought to replace it with an ethic of
They argued that a truly compassionate ethic, embodied by the Golden Rule,
served people’s best interests and made good practical sense. When the Bible
commanded that we “love” the foreigner, it was not speaking of emotional
tenderness. In Leviticus, love was a legal term: It was used in
international treaties, when two kings would promise to give each other
practical support, help and loyalty, and look out for each other's best
In our globalised world, everybody has become our neighbour, and the Golden
Rule has become an urgent necessity.
When asked by a pagan to sum up the whole of Jewish teaching while he stood
on one leg, Rabbi Hillel, an older contemporary of Jesus, replied: “That
which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the Torah–and
everything else is only commentary.”
The Dalai Lama put it even more succinctly when he said: “My religion is
These traditions have also pointed out that we must not confine our
benevolence to those we find congenial or to our own ethnic, national or
ideological group. We must have what one of the Chinese sages called jian
ai, or concern for everybody. If practiced assiduously–“all day and every
day” as Confucius enjoined–we begin to appreciate our profound
interdependence and become fully human.
Today, our world has become dangerously polarised and many of our
policies–political, economic, financial and environmental–are no longer
sustainable. We are all bound together–socially, 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 in New York or
But we have a choice. We can either choose the aggressive and exclusive
tendencies that have developed in many religious and secular traditions or
we can cultivate those that speak of compassion, empathy, respect and a
“concern for everybody”.
The Charter for Compassion will be launched on 12 November. It is not simply
a statement of principle; it is above all a summons to creative, practical
and sustained action to meet the political, moral, religious, social and
cultural problems of our time.
In addition to participating in one of the many launch events, we invite
each individual to adopt the charter as their own, to make a lifelong
commitment to live with compassion.
We cannot afford to be paralysed by global suffering. 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 a difference.
In a world that seems to be spinning out of control, we need such action
* Karen Armstrong is a former nun turned historian and author, and winner of
the TED Prize in 2008 and the 2009 Common Ground Award for Compassion.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a South African cleric, activist and Nobel Peace
Prize winner, as well as the 2002 recipient of Search for Common Ground's
Lifetime of Peacebuilding Award. Find out how you and your community can
participate in the ongoing effort to build a fair, just and compassionate
world at www.charterforcompassion.org. This article first appeared in the
Herald Times and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 20 October 2009,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.