Karen Armstrong is a former Catholic nun who left the church to become one of the world’s leading writers on spirituality and faith, penning books on the Bible, Buddhism and Islam, as well as A History of God. Recently, she was interviewed by Oprah and asked the question: “Is there a common thread that ties together all religions?”
Leaning on a lifetime of religious study and writing, Armstrong said that there was one theme she found in all religions. She then stated that if you got this one thing right, nothing else mattered. That one thing is compassion.
Armstrong tell us that all religions stress the Golden Rule, some variation of this thought: Always treat others the same way you would like to be treated yourself.
In the Bible, this is stated in Matthew 7:12 as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In the Jewish Talmud, it reads “that which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man.” In Buddhism, it is stated “Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.”
Compassion is something really worthwhile. It is not just a religious or spiritual subject. It is not a luxury, it is a necessity. ~Dalai Lama
Armstrong advises us to follow the lead of Buddhism and have compassion for all living things. This starts by realizing that every human being, no matter how fortunate or happy they may seem, has some level of pain within. By honestly looking into our own hearts, we can sense our own pain and realize that this pain and suffering exists in others.
We all endure hardships. We must realize we are not alone, the rest of humanity is on the same often difficult journey through life and deserves the same compassion we often only reserve for ourselves. I was reminded of this fact the other day, while reading a late-night tweet by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. He tweeted:
Goodnight to all your mistakes and deleted tweets and frayed nerves and broken hearts and nervous tics. I am aching just like you and I am learning just like you.
That’s a universal truth: Life is one big learning experience that we’re all going through together. We need to treat and respect others like we want to be respected, without petty meanness or by copping attitudes for minor transgressions. We also need to start living not just for ourselves, but for others.
We can do this by being involved and active in our own personal universe. We can offer others a haven of peace of which we are the center. Start by looking around you, family first. Is there someone you know who is distressed or needs a kind word? Do you see an opening for a heartfelt conversation? Next, move outward to your workplace and community. As Armstrong says:
“Try being a light to the people you meet every day.”
This extends to the strangers you see on the bus, walking down the street, in line at the bank or the coffee shop. Each person you encounter may be enduring their own personal tribulations. Smile at them. Silently wish them well. When appropriate, encourage them or offer a kind word. Do your part to make the world a better, more compassionate place.
12 Steps to a Compassionate Life
The following steps are from Karen Armstrong and are an edited version of a list that appears at Oprah.com. For a complete explanation of each step, see Armstrong’s book by the same name (though this should be enough to get you started on living a more compassionate life) 🙂
Step 1. Learn About Compassion. Know the Golden Rule.
Step 2. Look at Your Own World. Family first.
Step 3. Compassion for Yourself. The first step toward compassion for others.
Step 4. Empathy. Know the pain you feel is felt by those around you.
Step 5. Mindfulness. Be fully present in life.
Step 6. Action. Engage in small acts of kindness.
Step 7. How Little We Know. Be humble.
Step 8. How Should We Speak to One Another? Listening is as important as speaking.
Step 9. Concern For Everybody. This includes people of different races and cultures.
Step 10. Knowledge. Never stop looking and learning.
Step 11. Recognition. Identify those who need help.
Step 12. Love Your Enemies. Perhaps the hardest step of them all.