US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Are you compassionate?

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Sure it's easy enough to say we all should follow the Golden Rule and be compassionate, but what does that mean and how do we do it?

This is the challenge of the Charter for Compassion, Karen Armstrong's recently launched initiative which aims "to restore compassion to the central place of religious life," as she told us recently in an interview (coming up in the January issue). Seems like an uncontroversial idea, right?

But Armstrong told us that she has received negative feedback, especially in England. It seems that some aren't so excited about compassionate language--as we can see so clearly online sometimes. "There are a lot of people who are quite happy to race out doing good, but don't mind slighting Muslims for example," she says. "That's the point of the double version of the Golden Rule."

The Golden Rule is not just "do onto others as you would have them do onto you" but also "don't do to others what you would not want them do to you" (the negative wording is from Confucius, the first to outline the rule).

The other challenge is that people don't know what compassion means. Armstrong and leaders from the worlds' religious traditions drafted their charter based on input from people online. "I found out from the website [that] a lot of people think it means feeling sorry for people instead of putting your experience with the other, to put yourself in the position of the other," she says.

Many of the activities surrounding the launch are focused on education as much as action.

Armstrong didn't have much confidence in getting bishop conferences involved in the launch. She sees this as a grassroots movement. I encourage you, therefore, to sign onto the charter but also to do something about.

Bring this conversation to your family, parish, school, and community. Can you get your pastor preach on compassion one Sunday? What compassionate action are you willing to take?

Less than a week after the charter launched, it has more than 15,000 affirmers. That's not enough for a global effort on such a universal value. As Catholics, I encourage you to help spread this movement-and compassion itself.