A 12-step program for compassion

Karen Armstrong is a noted author on religious affairs. Her latest book is Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (2010), a mix of faith, philosophy, and self-help. In it, she offers a 12-step program to help make the world a more compassionate place:

  • “Learn About Compassion”
  • “Look at Your Own World”
  • “Compassion for Yourself”
  • “Empathy”
  • “Mindfulness”
  • “Action”
  • “How Little We Know”
  • “How Should We Speak to One Another?”
  • “Concern for Everybody”
  • “Knowledge”
  • “Recognition”
  • “Love Your Enemies”

This is not easy stuff. Armstrong’s program requires introspection, honest self-evaluation, and conscious effort. Perhaps I’m betraying my own limitations here, but I do believe that folks who attain the final step of loving their enemies should be designated junior saints, or at least get a certificate!

Connecting to work

In the U.S., we are so used to associating work with performance, productivity, and competition that the introduction of a term like compassion into that mix may sound naive or silly. But if we are going to build institutions that embrace individual dignity and social responsibility, and if we are going to free our workplaces from bullying, discrimination, and retaliation, then maybe a little healthy compassion would be a good thing.

It often has been remarked that when we enter our workplaces, we leave at the door fundamental rights that otherwise are part of everyday life, such as free speech and privacy. Likewise, ideas such as compassion, empathy, and dignity, while valued outside our workplaces, are rarely mentioned, and even less often practiced, inside them. Are the needs for control and power and to ride herd on workers so critical to productivity that we must abandon these values once the workday begins?

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