January 30, 2009


Dr. Carl Sagan

There are many hypotheses of brilliance and elegance that have been rejected because they did not survive a confrontation with experiment. The human condition would be greatly improved if such confrontations and willingness to reject hypotheses were a regular part of our social, political, economic, religious, and cultural lives.

  --  Dr. Carl Sagan

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

CompassionRise sometimes has a tone of certainty. In our articles we sometimes use the word "must" -- as in "Nature v. Nurture" we wrote:

A hopeful perspective is in itself valuable, but we must test it and follow our experiments and research to practical results, with an honest desire for greater good and an open mind about how it may be achieved.

In "Ignorance and Real Peace" we wrote:

Defeating ignorance to make peace means we must drain the swamps of prejudice, assumption, and misunderstanding. We must find facts to demystify disagreements. Where ignorance remains there is an equal instability in peace.

In "The Great Responsibility" we wrote:

With the scientific method, there are answers  -- theories and lessons, policy recommendations, productive results -- but the answers must remain open to improvement.

A scientist claiming to have found an absolute, definite answer has violated the scientific method.

That is the line we walk with compassion and science: the certainty we have is: uncertainty. We offer some conclusive prescriptions for a more compassionate life and a more compassionate world, while we also embrace challenges, debates, and improvements to our conclusions. If you have research which disputes a conclusion of ours, then that is not a threat to us. We would welcome it and weigh it against comparable research, to improve our conclusions or possibly replace them.

Unlike a religion, we do not believe our conclusions, we offer them as our best understanding and we expect to know better in the future. In the article "Science and Humility" we wrote:

Jacob Bronowski wrote that science is "not a mechanism but a human progress, and not a set of findings but a search for them." The ideals of the scientific method can guide not only productive experiments, but also the ethical struggles in our daily lives. We must detach ourselves from our assumptions, our opinions, and our conclusions.

Some say science is devoid of compassion, but science and compassion are two expressions of the same idea. A more scientific approach, from personal ethics to civil society, is our most universal, rational, and practical means to the end of greater honesty, openness, and humility.

In his scientifically casual but socially serious book The Dragons of Eden -- Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, popular scientist Carl Sagan defined reason, which we equate for this purpose to science and compassion:

"Reason: a courageous working through of the world as it really is."

Doing the right thing requires humility and courage and hard work, whatever your word for it -- reason, science, compassion. We are not compassionate for the sake of compassion -- we are not compassionate because we believe it is right, we are compassionate because we have learned it is better. Compassion includes its own improvement; it is not perfect, and we continue to seek better still.

In closing "The Dragons of Eden," Sagan also quotes Jacob Bronowski:

We are a scientific civilization. That means a civilization in which knowledge and its integrity are crucial. Science is only a Latin word for knowledge. .... Knowledge is our destiny.

Here Bronowski refers to knowledge, but not in the sense of unquestionable fact, instead in the general sense of knowing. That is the integrity of our knowledge -- that it can withstand infinite question.

Compassion is like wisdom; to be wise is not to know.

January 29, 2009

Feelings and Forgiveness

The Dalai Lama

When we are able to recognize and forgive ignorant actions done in one's past, we strengthen ourselves and can solve the problems of the present constructively.

If you know that someone is speaking badly of you behind your back, and if you react to that negativity with a feeling of hurt, then you destroy your own peace of mind. One's pain is one's own creation. One should treat such things as if they are wind behind one's ear. In other words, just brush them aside. To a large extent, whether or not one suffers pain depends on how one responds to a given situation. What makes a difference is whether or not one is too sensitive and takes things too seriously.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

The Dalai Lama offers difficult advice today -- something like "forgive and forget." We have previously discussed "Compassion and Revenge" and we concluded that revenge is wrong. The guidance today is beyond simply not taking revenge for a wrong we have suffered. We are further advised to acknowledge wrong acts, forgive them, and in essence, to not even let them bother us.

"To a large extent, whether or not one suffers pain depends on how one responds to a given situation," the Dalai Lama observes, even directly stating that "One's pain is one's own creation." This is not to say that those who do wrong are not responsible for inflicting pain on their victims, it is to say that we are each responsible for maintaining our own compassion, and our ability to be compassionate is reduced when we suffer negativity. Whatever wrongs we have suffered, we must maintain our own healthy state of mind.

The Dalai Lama is no stranger to suffering. If a man who was forced from his homeland, while thousands of his friends and family were killed, and who has not been allowed to return to his home in 50 years -- if this man is telling us to forgive, then we must listen. For his unwavering commitment to nonviolence, the Dalai Lama was awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, even as he has suffered more than most of us ever will. We must each of us reconsider our grudges, our hard feelings, all the negativity we suffer.

If we suffered emotional injury because we were a victim of someone else's wrong actions, then at first, that is only natural. Emotions occur as a reaction, before we can choose otherwise. If we still suffer now, however, then why? Do we have the power to stop suffering? If we must be compassionate, but we cannot be as compassionate unless we forgive, then must we forgive and do we not have the responsibility to stop suffering? Are we biologically helpless with regard to our happiness, or can we choose happiness, peacefulness, and possibility?

In an earlier article on happiness, "We Are the Makers," CompassionRise concluded: "Happiness is something you choose -- it may be inspired by others or by your circumstances but it does not depend on them -- being happy depends on you." In the article "Our Sense of Well-Being" we discussed some practical ways of making and keeping yourself happy and the reasons they may work.

After the moments of emotional reaction, this burden is ours because happiness is a matter of our free will. In "How We Choose to Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People -- Their Secrets, Their Stories" Rick Foster and Greg Hicks offer their research. They write "Happiness can be learned at any age, in any economic circumstances or geographical location, by people of any race, religion or belief system." CompassionRise would add: ... or by people of no religion, or of no belief system. Browse that part of their book on page 228, and search all of it with Google Books. From pages 13 and 14:

The idea that our deepest happiness comes from within us has echoed for centuries throughout world literature and religion. No less a philosopher than Aristotle said: "Happiness depends upon ourselves." Marcus Aurelius wrote in Rome: "To live happily is an inward power of the soul." ... This philosophy is also reflected in the two-thousand-year-old collection of Buddha's words, The Dhammapada: "The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart."

There is nothing in any of this philosophical certainty which says that forgiveness is easy. It is not. However, we are not exempted by the difficulty of our responsibilities. Having hard feelings is natural, but maintaining them is a choice -- a destructive choice. Examine the negative emotions you suffer, recognize and forgive their source; choose happiness, and reopen yourself to constructive solutions for the problems of the present.

January 28, 2009

Eagle and Thicket

Chief Seattle

When the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses all tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires, where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone.

-- Seattle, Chief of the Suquamish, Duwamish, and Allied Native American Tribes

The Dalai Lama

The creatures that inhabit this earth -- be they human beings or animals -- are here to contribute, each in its own particular way, to the beauty and prosperity of the world.

-- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

Just ten and even five years ago, it was considered unusual to be concerned about the health of our planet, or to worry about the health of plants and animals with whom we share it. It was considered strange to suggest that we should all change the way we were living to be more sustainable. As recently as 2003 in the United States, conservatives wrote that the word ''environmentalist'' has the ''connotation of extremism.''

100 years before the modern environmentalist movement began in the 1950s, and longer still before the availability of our current science and technology, a relative few compassionate, wise people foretold the onset of our environmental problems. These few included Chief Seattle and other Native Americans, and John Muir and other naturalists. Conservationist movements had contemporary success in preserving national parks and other land, but the wisest few understood we needed not only to set aside parks, but to change the way in which we live every day.

Many extend the compassion they feel for other people to animals or to all living things. Those people may, for example, eat only vegetarian or vegan foods. Some people do not -- the ethic is not universally held and is the subject of significant debate. The words considered today from Chief Seattle and the Dalai Lama point to practical environmental concerns more than ethics. Environmentalism is not only rooted in concern for other living things, but in concern for ourselves.

The direct and selfish reasons we should be concerned for the health of plants, animals, and our environment include: stability of our ecosystem, maintenance of food sources, and the genetic variation we need for development of medicines. Our greater understanding of climate change, especially global warming, and people's impact on our environment has made it clear that our immediate, physical safety is also a concern in a warmer, then more volatile climate.

Holistic, systems thinking and complexity were once only understood by academics and professional scientists, but these fundamental concepts are now better understood by people with little or no formal education all around the world. Themes that once were limited to films like 1991's wonderful but under-appreciated Mindwalk now get global rock star treatment like 2006's An Inconvenient Truth. To continue improving general understanding of interdependence, compassion must expand its role within science education.

About today's sources:

There is some disagreement about whether Chief Seattle either wrote or spoke the words quoted here, or even if they were his words. They are credited to him by many academic sources online such as the Journal of Pesticide Reform, and by at least two books I recommend from my own shelves, Al Gore's Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit from 1992, and The Wisdom of the Native Americans by Kent Nerburn. Based on more historically certain words spoken by Seattle and positions he took, we can at least conclude that he would agree with these words. In fact, I have also been unable to locate the original source of today's quote from the Dalai Lama, a step I usually require before attribution. These words are credited to him thousands of times online however, including by some who have known him personally, and I have no reason to doubt the attribution.

January 27, 2009

The Great Responsibility

The Dalai Lama

Whenever Buddhism has taken root in a new land there has always been a certain variation in the style in which it is observed. The Buddha himself taught differently according to the place, the occasion, and the situation of those who were listening to him. So, all of us have the great responsibility to take the essence of Buddhism and put it into practice in our own lives.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

What the Dalai Lama calls "the great responsibility" is a Buddhist version of free will in ethics. Most religions have their own version of this ideal, even those which have a reputation or tradition of being rule-based or culturally rigid. Personal responsibility is a fundamental concept with which most will agree. How well various authorities live up to their commitment to empower their people varies widely.

Roman Catholics who attend adult catechism classes may be surprised at the Church's official philosophy on political questions or specific practices and individual, ethical decision making. As children, Catholics are taught to follow the absolute religious and ethical authority of their elders, priest, bishop, and the Church. Most current Catholics were born into the religion, and most Catholics do not attend religious education as adults, so this general ethical guidance for adults is often overlooked or at best, clouded. There is a popular misconception outside Catholicism that affects practicing Catholics, too, that the pope decides what one absolutely must believe on specific questions like birth control or education policy.

Church authorities and activists are often vocal and opinionated, and at many times in history, popes have ruled over the Church in ways contrary to their official ethic of personal responsibility. In a religion with more than one billion members, no matter what the leadership of the pope, inevitably some bishops, priests, religious orders, and other authorities will still rule over Catholic communities in a rigid and philosophically incorrect way. The Vatican and other Church authorities cloud the question by taking strong public and political positions which imply a lack of Catholics' individual responsibility in ethical decision making.

Still, the fundamental, philosophical Church dogma is that personal responsibility is paramount, above Church instruction. Catholics are supposed to consider the Church's positions, its reasons, and attend Mass weekly -- then, fully informed, they must make their own moral decisions, not only on some questions but on all.

Given a lot of self contradiction and misunderstanding, then, Catholics are aligned in their approach to Catholic doctrine with the Dalai Lama's statement on Buddhist doctrine. These philosophical positions are aligned with science and with compassion. Science and compassion are not absolute answers to specific questions, they are principles and methods which even when they draw conclusions, require an open mind. With the scientific method, there are answers  -- theories and lessons, policy recommendations, productive results -- but the answers must remain open to improvement.

A scientist claiming to have found an absolute, definite answer has violated the scientific method, something like if the pope makes a statement claiming the absolute authority of a god when Catholicism itself teaches otherwise. Either would be nonsense; all of human experience has shown us that whatever we know now, we are likely to know better in time. Whether it was the Vatican claiming our Earth was the center of the universe or Einstein claiming that a god does not play dice (i.e. that probability is essentially untrue), claims of certainty are almost certain to lead to ultimate embarrassment. Earth is nowhere near the center of it all, and probability is as real as you are.

"The great responsibility" we each have, and all share, is in a word: leadership. In a previous article -- "A New Spirituality" -- CompassionRise concluded:

Compassion does not call us to nod our heads in approval. We are not called to follow, we are called to lead.

A typical religion refers to its members as "followers" and this is where science and compassion diverge from systems of belief. It is the basic understanding of science that we never have the best possible answer to a question. Circumstances will require timely decisions and conclusions and theories may be supported by a mountain of evidence, but even then we should answer with the presumption that more searching and researching, debating and experimenting, could yield better and better answers. Above all, science and compassion are making, doing, and improving -- not receiving, or waiting, or maintaining, and not following. Compassion will take you nowhere unless you lead.

January 26, 2009

Common Ground

The Dalai Lama

We have to adopt a wider perspective, and always find common things between the people of north, east, south, and west. Conflict comes from the basis of differences.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

Because conflict is often rooted in our differences, finding common ground is often the way to resolution. If common ground is too hard to find, a trusted third-party can serve the same purpose as a common point of contact, a mediator.

Research into mediation has shown that it is more successful when it comes after a test of strength between those in conflict. Sporting events are relatively harmless tests of strength which can serve several related purposes, including building shared experience and stress relief. The competition itself can play the role of a common struggle for those in conflict, providing opportunities for direct competitors to work together -- like two opposing players who fall to the ground, then help each other up. A player may have opportunities to build trust with the competition by admitting to having broken a rule, or by offering equipment, a drink of water, or other help.

The shared struggle for athletic excellence is a powerful common ground. Sports have had historic success in mediating conflict even between nations who had no formal relationship. "Ping Pong Diplomacy" between the United States and the People's Republic of China in the 1970s led directly to more serious diplomacy.

Even without an active conflict, finding common ground is a compassionate action which benefits everyone involved. The Olympic Games and soccer's World Cup may be the two most popular events on Earth. They and millions of other regularly scheduled sporting events keep friendly relations going.

Do not only be a passive observer of events like these, whether they are sports, festivals, or other events -- between nations, among the people of a city, or between neighboring schools. U.S. President Barack Obama recently said "No one is exempt from the call to find common ground." Seek out people and cultures who are the most different from you. Attend a festival to celebrate a foreign holiday, for example, or invite someone foreign to your celebration. Grow your compassion by finding common ground.

January 25, 2009

Achieving Immortality

The Dalai Lama

Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama


Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

CompassionRise has often discussed the pursuit of happiness; happiness is love and desire for life. We have also discussed the sustainability of the self, both for our daily lives and while anticipating human immortality.

There is a plain logic to being immortal by sharing knowledge. Our mortality is physical; people generally die before they want to, before they are mentally exhausted, and because their bodies have in some way failed. We are physically fragile, whatever the strength of our will and the advance of our medicine.

It is unlikely any amount of medical science and technology could keep us alive forever as we are; at some point, we would need to get out of our bodies. By the time technology could maintain an eternal human body, it is likely other, preferable options would exist, like a machine mind with superior memory or a machine body capable of flying. We can imagine many technical innovations which seem more likely than mastering the medicine of an eternal body.

Who are we? A few simple, if poetic answers: we are what we create, what we uniquely observe or make, what we communicate, and we are our relationships with others. Who we are, as such, is in large measure defined by what is outside of our bodies, opposite to how we more casually think of ourselves.

Thinking the Dalai Lama's words through as we have, he makes a profound but simple sense: "Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality."

CompassionRise has used the term "extrasomatic" in several articles, each time linking to outside definitions because the term itself is not common. "Soma" in both Latin and Greek means "body," and so literally, "extrasomatic" is "out of body."

The extrasoma is fundamental to everything humanity has accomplished, and central to self and social improvement. In the article "Ignorance and Real Peace" we wrote:  

Throughout civil human history, from early use of scales and standards in transactions and markets to our modern age of computing, we have used factual, extrasomatic reference and machines to drain the swamps within and among humanity.

In "Community and Inner Strength" we wrote: 

If CompassionRise appeals to a higher power, then that higher power is comprised of our community, our ability, and our potential. Our higher power is not only the gathered, living community of people, but also our collected extrasomatic knowledge, our technology, and our imagination of what is possible. One thousand of us together are not merely one thousand times the potential of one of us; one thousand of us are enough, in time, to remake all we have accomplished. History has proven that what we can dream, we can do.

Whether through reincarnation, resurrection, becoming a god, or ascending to heaven or descending to hell, immortality is the central prediction and promise of every religion. Immortality is almost universally presumed. Whether you believe in the one, true religion, the stories go, will determine whether you get a preferred type of immortality. Nonreligious people who variously call themselves humanists, secularists, naturalists, freethinkers, atheists, brights, and otherwise, are distinct from religious believers in presuming total mortality with the death of our bodies. The promise of immortality, for them, is a scientific or technological possibility, not promised by gods in return for devotion, but made by people. Immortality will not require belief; getting to it and living it well, though, will require a lot of compassion.

CompassionRise has previously explored the philosophical connection between science and compassion, as in "Science and Humility," and compassion as a universal spirituality, as in "A New Spirituality." Compassion is not only a matter of ethics. With its principles and methods, compassion is also a means to a more civil society, a longer and better lived life, and other better ends. Sharing knowledge is an immediate means to immortality for parts of ourselves, and we are achieving greater means of creating, recording, and communicating on a literally daily basis. There are other, more direct means of total immortality however, and we are not unimaginably far from them.

Compassion should not only guide our individual actions, and the extrasoma is not only defined for ourselves as individuals. For all of humanity, a parallel is true -- the more we create, record, communicate and share, the more we collectively know outside the frailty of individual minds and bodies. As other people, contemporary and descendant, can access our shared knowledge, the greater will be humanity's collective chance of surviving and the better our lives will be along the way.

The extrasoma is not only a machine, not only a book, not only a database. It is every act of communication, every export of what we observe, think, and feel. The extrasoma can be a spoken or written word, a look or a smile, or a constructed object, or a work of art.

For most of human history, the main extrasoma was oral tradition. With story telling and spoken language generally, we taught and learned the history of our ancestors, knowledge we needed to survive practically, and natural philosophy to explain our world and ourselves. The earliest writings we have available were not new stories. In them and in the stories we tell today we hear the echoes of millennia of spoken words. The method of oral tradition is beloved but it is barely extrasomatic -- it introduces and compounds errors, like those demonstrated in the telephone game. A lot of information is lost -- forgotten, modified beyond recognition, or drowned out by information introduced.

What we call "history" is usually regarded as everything which is both intentionally extrasomatic and more permanent or less mortal than the spoken word -- writing, informational drawings like maps and schematics, and the like. The times before the intentional extrasoma, when we had only oral tradition and unintended artifacts of our civilization, we call "prehistoric." The first writing of a language began roughly 8,000 years ago. The first intentional, informational drawing was cave painting and is four times as old, beginning roughly 32,000 years ago.

We think of everything prehistoric as primitive or uncivilized. Even modern societies which do not have written language are thought to be embarrassingly crude. However, biologically there is no difference between those primitive people and you, or me. If we were born in the time before any language had been written, would we have been the first person to write? With no previous example, could you have created written language?

Our prejudice against those who live without the extrasoma is strong, and telling. We consider them somewhat less than human, or in any case, certainly less than us. This is an expression of how important the extrasoma has been to our success as individuals, communities, societies, and as a species.

The lack of the extrasoma is not less than human, though; instead, what is extrasomatic is more than human, because it is less mortal. In this sense, the extrasoma is greater than human.

However, any export of our thoughts and feelings is also imperfect; information is always lost in translation, whether through our failure to completely express ourselves, the imperfection of our medium of expression, or the failure of others to fully or even adequately understand our expression. In this sense, the extrasoma is less than human. The greatest immortality will be our own.

It is not difficult or unusual to communicate, to write something down, to create or to build, to make our mark. We do not struggle for motivation; we are as driven to the extrasoma as we are to life itself. The Dalai Lama is not showing us a difficult path to follow. Instead, he is telling us to travel that path mindfully. CompassionRise today seeks not to find a new way, but to seek in a new way. What we do intentionally, we do better.

January 24, 2009

Good Intentions

The Dalai Lama

If we examine ourselves every day with mindfulness and mental alertness, checking our thoughts, motivations, and their manifestations in external behavior, a possibility for change and self-improvement can open within us. From early morning until I go to bed and in all situations in life, I always try to check my motivation and be mindful and present in the moment.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

An old saying goes: "it's the thought that counts." When we give a gift or try to do something good, people often care more for the effort we make, or for our intentions, than for the material value or the result of our efforts.

In the law, crimes and injuries are often prosecuted and punished differently based on motivation, too. In the United States, when one person causes the death of another, it might be murder if there is intent, or with less intent it may be voluntary manslaughter, or with even less intent it may be involuntary manslaughter. In Europe and Asia, civil law puts relatively less weight on intent and more on the result of an act, but intent is still a key consideration and especially with regard to what penalty is deserved. Different societies measure and value intent with some variation, but in all societies, intent is considered important.

Immanuel Kant wrote extensively on motivation during the 18th century, when he formalized these ideas in Western philosophy and influenced nearly all philosophers since. Kant wrote that actions without intent are meaningless, and that the value of an action is not in its result, but in the feeling of the person taking the action.

There are many times we are uncertain what is right or wrong. A good guide in such times is to act with good intentions. Having good intentions is not always enough to ensure good results; often a bad result is due to misunderstanding of intent.

We must make our intentions clear to ourselves and others. If our motivations are not clearly stated, then others will assume some motivations, because without knowing our intent they do not know how to judge the value of our actions. Any action may have many motivations, so chances are high that without clear communication of intent, a misunderstanding will occur.

The Dalai Lama applies these ideas to our daily lives. Whenever possible, we should begin each day and each task by considering our motivations.

January 23, 2009

Developing the Human Family

The Dalai Lama

For a better, happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warmhearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

When we do not think of other people as people -- when we instead think of them as enemies or criminals, as monsters or devils, as unfeeling, unintelligent, or otherwise less than human -- it is only then that we are able to justify the worst crimes against them. We enslave some, and gather to go to war against others, but we could do neither if we thought of our victims as fellow human beings.

Large amounts of research from many fields -- neuroscience, anthropology, psychology, sociology, even literature -- has established that dehumanizing victims is what ethically permits violence, for example see this recent work by UC Berkeley's Malcolm Potts and science writer Thomas Hayden.

If peace is desired by all people, then humanizing each other may be the most promising path to it. This is to say that we should all simply get to know each other better. That should be a lot of fun, and the more fun, the better.

The Dalai Lama takes this a step further, advising that we should not only become more familiar, but more familial: "Each of us must develop a sincere, warmhearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood." In a similar demonstration of how much compassion we should feel for all other people, the Dalai Lama referred to Buddhist scriptures: "It is said in our scriptures that we are to cultivate love just like that of a mother toward her only child. This is very intimate."

His suggested separation of familial love from the family unit is connected to a larger ethic in compassion -- that individuals should be valued not by birthright but by their own character. Loving people who are not your biological brother or sister as if they are your brother or sister is also to separate opportunity, identity, and compassion from biology or birth. The Dalai Lama is associating with the principle that birthright is wrong.

As people live longer and birth rates decline, the practical, social value of birthright will decline as a matter of course. As we enable eternal life through technology, the relevance of an individual's character will tend toward infinity and the relevance of birthright toward nothingness. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream is a fact of the future into which we course.

We should choose character over birthright now, tradition is not justice. Without choosing character over birthright, America would not have thrown off the British monarchy to resurrect democracy in the modern world, and Barack Obama would not have been elected as U.S. President.

To have such a warmhearted feeling toward someone that you would treat them as your brother or sister may require overcoming dehumanizing prejudice about the groups to which they belong. For example, you might think Americans and British are arrogant -- to assume that someone considers himself better than human is to dehumanize him, or you might think Russians and Germans are emotionally cold or calculating, more plainly dehumanizing. Entertainment industry and other cultural stereotypes can have, but should not have, a strong influence on what we expect of individuals -- our prejudices -- and on how we judge those individuals.

There is no better way to overcome a prejudice than to personally interact with other people. When you discover common fears and hopes, you feel the common humanity which will enable you to treat them with compassion. Meeting people from all around the world was once very expensive, difficult, and rare. With the rise of the Web on which we meet now, each of us can find our place in the human family. Having friends around the world has become so simple that among people online, it is more common than not.

Significant remaining boundaries include language, culture more generally, and the global digital divide. However, with 1.5 billion people now online and Web sites growing increasingly interactive, these boundaries, too are being erased. To lessen the obstruction of language and cultural division, CompassionRise turns for a second time to Flickr, a site with billions of photographs shared by millions of people around the world.

You can visit Flickr for free without an account, then sign up for a basic account to interact, still for free. Use Flickr to explore some of the places below, or anywhere in the world. When you find a photograph that moves you, leave a comment for the photographer, mark the photo as a favorite, or send the photographer a private message. With Flickr you can make friends and connections on the other side of the world or on the other side of town.

Explore Montréal, Québec:

Montréal, Québec

"International Flora Montréal" by Humanoide in Montréal, Québec

Explore Tehran, Iran:

Tehran, Iran

"Flickies Gathering" by Hamed Saber in Tehran, Iran

Explore Seoul, South Korea:

Seoul, South Korea

"chunggye stream" by youngdoo in Seoul, South Korea

Explore São Paulo, Brazil:

São Paulo, Brazil

"Untitled" by amfdesigner in São Paulo, Brazil

January 22, 2009

Compassion and Revenge

The Dalai Lama

A truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively or hurt you. Whether one believes in a religion or not, there isn't anyone who doesn't appreciate kindness and compassion.

-- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi (મોહનદાસ કરમચંદ ગાંધી)

An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.

-- Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi (મોહનદાસ કરમચંદ ગાંધી)


Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

The idea of justice in revenge is as old as it is biological. We naturally rise to our defense of course, and we are inclined to protect against future harm, too, by penalty against the offender, by revenge.

The Code of Hammurabi from the ancient city of Babylon is one of the oldest systems of justice for which we have historical record; it is roughly 3,760 years old. The code specifies penalties for many crimes and injuries. In it, the general concept of taking an eye for an eye is well established. For example, see rule 229 as translated into English:

If a builder build a house for some one, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.

In many cases, the penalty for causing death in ancient Babylon was death. In modern China similarly, it was announced today that two men who caused the deaths of six babies will themselves be put to death by the government. The two men are also responsible for causing the illness of many thousands of babies, through the sale of contaminated milk. It was the death of six babies though, which justified under Chinese law that these two men should also die.

In most modern legal systems, intent is a critical element to justice. If a criminal or offender did not specifically intend to cause someone's death, then the offender would not deserve a penalty of death. In ancient times though, and still in some modern societies, losing an eye is justification enough for taking an eye, metaphorically and sometimes literally. 

Much of the justification for taking an eye for an eye is rooted in religious texts. In the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible's Old Testament, there are several scriptural statements of supernatural support for revenge. From Deuteronomy 19:21:

Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

From the Third Book of Moses, Leviticus 24:20:

Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.

Among Christians, taking an eye for an eye is not only an Old Testament ethic, it is also prevalent in the New Testament Gospel of Matthew, for example. However, there is a contradictory Christian ethic of "turning the other cheek." In the literal sense, that is to say if you are offended by a slap to your cheek, then you should not attempt revenge by slapping the offender's cheek. Instead, you should offer your other cheek.

One later use of the phrase was in "the Sermon on the Mount," which to underline the contradiction, is also in the Gospel of Matthew, 5:38-42. Jesus is quoted:

You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

This leaves Christians understandably vexed by what is right or wrong according to their religion. The Jewish Torah, and Talmudic law drawing from it, is not a list of certain penalties per each offense, like the Code of Hammurabi. The Torah is a debate. The Gospel of Matthew continues this Jewish tradition, for Christians. In the Christian Bible, one god -- Jesus -- is disagreeing with the ethical rules set forth by another god, his father -- generally referred to simply as "God."

Islam, its religious scripture, and its derivative Sharia law take a clearer position on the question of revenge, including that they specifically and literally address taking an eye for an eye. There are many modern examples of Muslims who suffered the loss of sight due to a crime and demanded that the criminal's sight be taken in return.

Muhammad directly criticized Jewish ambivalence on the matter and cited their ethic of taking an eye for an eye as correct justice. From the Qur'an, 5:45:

And We ordained therein for them: Life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth and wounds equal for equal.

Can't we all just get along? Sure, says Islam, that is an option -- left for the victim of a crime or offense to decide. The Qur'an continues from the above:

But if anyone remits the retaliation by way of charity, it shall be for him an expiation.

An expiation is supernatural forgiveness for something you have done wrong, a sin. If you have done something wrong, and if you have suffered wrongdoing, then under Sharia law, you can morally account for what you did wrong by not requiring punishment for the wrongdoing you suffered.

The Dalai Lama today rejects even Islam's more precise and developed ethic of revenge. He rejects categorically that religious belief, or the lack of religious belief, can be justification for taking revenge. He states as a matter of universal ethics that your own compassion cannot be affected by someone else's wrongdoing.

The Dalai Lama is taking an ethical position for which we have another handy cliché: "Two wrongs don't make a right." He is saying that the law is separate from the person, that what is right or wrong on the question of revenge does not depend on one's own emotions nor does it depend on circumstance -- though at times it may feel otherwise, revenge is simply wrong.

CompassionRise seeks, then tests compassionate wisdom. Often the wisest words are simple, able at once to settle the dust swirling from thousands of years of heated debate between billions of people.

Mahatma Gandhi or as CompassionRise will more often refer to him, Gandhiji, offers a practical perspective on the Dalai Lama's ethical measurement. Modernly we often discuss sustainability, and Gandhiji is saying in a sense that revenge is not sustainable:

An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.

In his writing “Non-Violence in Peace and War," Gandhiji wrote as pragmatically about violence not between individual people, but between peoples:

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?

January 21, 2009

Innovations, Expectations, and Change

Bill Gates

I learned an important lesson about predicting the future. Often, we expect too much too quickly, but we don’t expect enough over the long term. Change doesn’t happen on a schedule, but it can be more sweeping than anybody imagined.

 -- Bill Gates

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

CompassionRise has recently noted the theme of renewal, which has been prevalent in conversations globally with the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama. Elections and changes in leadership lead to expectations, which have been the subject of much political discussion but which we all experience in our daily lives, too. As we innovate and change -- socially, professionally, or personally -- how do we manage expectations?

Bill Gates is the Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and he spoke the words we consider today, January 21 while announcing a new, US $630 million effort to defeat polio. The polio vaccine was first administered in the 1950s, but "polio has caused paralysis and death for much of human history." As from the Gates Foundation:

Polio is a crippling and sometimes fatal disease that still paralyzes children in parts of Africa and Asia and threatens children everywhere. Polio has been completely eliminated in the Americas, the Western Pacific, and Europe, but the wild polio virus persists in Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan, and imported cases from these countries threaten other developing nations.

Our science and technology have made it possible to defeat this disease if our efforts are well enough organized and supported. Rotary International, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the British and German governments each made significant commitments to enable a broad and bold approach to finishing humanity's fight against polio. Their commitments should inspire others, too:

“G-8 countries pledged repeatedly to take all necessary steps to eradicate polio,” said Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development. “We urge other countries to join us in closing the funding gap and ensuring that health workers have the support they need to protect the world’s children from polio.”

The fight against polio has many layers of significance. As World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan observed:

Successfully eradicating polio is crucially important, not just to ensure that no child will ever again be paralyzed by this devastating disease, but also to show that today--in the 21st century--we can deliver life-saving health interventions to every single child, no matter where they live, and even in the most difficult and challenging environments.

Bill Gates observed today that innovation has been the key to our partial, encouraging success against polio so far, and that only more innovation will make possible our final victory over the disease:

My favorite statistic about global health is this: In 1960, 20 million young children died. Two years ago, that figure was 10 million. In short, in my lifetime, the world has learned how to save more than 10 million children every year. 

Surely, that is humanity’s greatest accomplishment in the last 50 years. And innovations both simple and complex made it possible. From knit caps that keep newborns warm to the most advanced vaccines, innovations can save lives. 

In the context of innovation, Gates made his larger statement about change and expectations, that "Change doesn’t happen on a schedule, but it can be more sweeping than anybody imagined."

The key to managing expectations may be clear and thoughtful leadership. The Gates Foundation's simple, forceful mission statement begins:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is "Guided by the belief that every life has equal value."

They specify a remarkable 15 Guiding Principles and 4-Step Approach. The 15th principle may be the most important:

15. We leave room for growth and change.

In their methods we see balance. Do not choose between following a mantra or guiding principle, writing a business plan or listing specific guidelines, and keeping an open mind. Do all and each carefully. Writing a mission statement or one guiding principle is hard work. It is just as hard to find the words to describe all your methods and motivations, thresholds and intentions. Doing these, though, helps to shape and fulfill expectations.

Managing expectations is essential to creating change. When we have "taken care of business," when we are prepared and connected and determined, then we are free to look up, to set our eyes on the horizon. We can let ourselves imagine the greatest changes, then set out to achieve our goals with less fear for how long it may take to get there or for what may stand in our way.

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