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January 30, 2009

Experimentation

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.

January 20, 2009

Pushing Our Human Boundaries

U.S. President Barack Obama

I want us to push our own human boundaries to reach beyond the divides of race and region, gender and religion that keep us from seeing the best in each other.

 -- Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

Recently we discussed the Dalai Lama's call: "We must find, all of us together, a new spirituality" and Barack Obama's call for "A new declaration of independence" including independence from ideology. The theme of renewal is in the air as Obama becomes the first African-American U.S. President and the first national leader of African descent anywhere in the Western world. An even more important, common theme in those two and today's message is the call for overcoming our divisions.

Obama urges us across and beyond divisions of race, region, gender, and religion. He wrote the words quoted here today in a letter to his daughters Malia and Sasha, "What I Want for You — and Every Child in America" published two days ago. The gravity of his choice of words shows the respect with which he regards Malia and Sasha. His words were serious but no less inspirational. Obama charges young people with shared responsibility for the future and encourages them to aim high.

The theme of being more than human is also echoed, here with "pushing our human boundaries." Obama had previously offered "an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels" -- angels which CompassionRise identified as "our will, our potential, and our compassion." Working together, we become better than the sum of our individual abilities. This is the creativity of collectivity, the super humanity we summon to overcome our greatest obstacles and to which Obama calls America and the world.

Lastly, Obama identifies our divisions as "human boundaries," which is to say that we have created these divisions, and we can undo them. Gender is biological but prejudice and discrimination based on gender are subject to our will, we can choose not to and learn not to and teach our children not to discriminate. Obama also identifies religion as a human boundary, an obstacle to a better world which we must overcome together.

In "A Portrait of Change -- In First Family, a Nation's Many Faces" Jodi Kantor of The New York Times wrote today:

The Obama family ... looks almost nothing like their overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly Protestant predecessors [as America's ruling families]. The family that produced Barack and Michelle Obama is black and white and Asian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish. Though the world is recognizing the inauguration of the first African-American president, the story is a more complex narrative, about immigration, social mobility and the desegregation of one of the last divided institutions in American life: the family. It is a tale of self-determination, full of refusals to follow the tracks laid by history or religion or parentage.

Kantor failed to note that Barack Obama's mother was an atheist or humanist -- which term she preferred is not clear. Though Obama was raised by his mother and only once met his father briefly, much has been made of Obama's father's Muslim heritage, while there has been little mention of Obama's mother's choice to not believe in gods and not practice a religion.

Race is a wholly human concept which has no biological merit. When we expand our idea of race outside our regional boundaries, we see even that race has no social merit. Consider for example that from a Western perspective, everyone in India would be of the same "race," so we might think racism would not be a problem. Within India though, prejudice based on the relative lightness or darkness of a person's skin is a terribly serious issue -- thousands of years old, harshly unjust, and with a large majority of the population resistant to change.

Division by region refers to the territorial basis of our laws and it is prescient, if not yet politically popular for Obama to apply a slight presidential erasure to America's borders. Territorial law is a root cause of instability in our global economy, a threat to international security, and an obstacle to coordinated environmental policy. Borders are a leading cause of injustice suffered by citizens of every city, state, and nation, as corporations and criminals operate without regard for borders and often beyond the reaches of border-bound governments and border-based law.

Nations and states once served a great purpose. The division of our world into territories provided global stability with room for experimentation when we knew less of each other. Now, territorial law prevents stability and disallows the experimentation we need to address global issues like our shared economy, environment, Internet, or security issues from identity theft to piracy and terrorism. For the protection and service of global citizens and consumers we need nothing less than increasingly global government, and it is awesome that the new president of the United States has started in office by signaling his agreement.

Barack Obama has taken many steps already to bring this world closer together. Most of them have been personal, rhetorical, or symbolic. His service on the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee and his leadership on some international policy issues are preface to more material and governmental action in the coming days and years. He is pushing our human boundaries, while asking all of us, including our children, to join him and to join each other, to open our minds and see the best in each other, so we make the best of our shared future.

 

January 19, 2009

Everybody Can Be Great

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.

 -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

In 1994 the United States' Congress rededicated the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, January 19, as a national day of community service. King lived a whole life of service with dedication to inspiring others to the same: "Everybody can be great because everybody can serve."

U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama and Vice President-Elect Joe Biden honored King's life and message by using their online, campaign resources and their speaking opportunities to organize community service efforts nationwide. While he was painting a wall today at an emergency shelter for teenagers in Washington, D.C., the Sasha Bruce House, Obama said: "When all of our people are engaged and involved in making their community better, we can accomplish anything."

David Plouffe, the campaign manager for Obama-Biden 2008, yesterday sent this message to the 17 million Americans who had signed up to stay in touch:

Renewing America Today -- the Obama-Biden call to service on Martin Luther King Jr. DayIn your neighborhood and in thousands of communities across the country, Americans are answering President-elect Obama's call to service.

Tomorrow, January 19th, our nation will come together in a shared spirit of community. And I wanted to make sure you know how to participate.

Monday is not only the eve of an inauguration that brings all of us so much hope, it's also Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- when we recognize the power of one man to bring about change by serving his country.

Help kick off an ongoing commitment to serve our communities by taking part in this extraordinary day of service.

David Plouffe's message also provided the image above and this link to help everyone find a way to serve:

USAService.org

With the web site, any American could find an organized event to attend or host their own event, organized through the site.

There were more than 5,000 community service events organized through USAService.org for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and many thousands more are organized for future dates.

This is an unprecedented extension of what was a political campaign into an activist movement for a more civil society. The empowerment at USAService.org should be internationalized to help all of the 1.5 billion people online organize service events for everyone, everywhere. In turn we can all serve, and we can all be great.

January 18, 2009

A New Independence

U.S. President Barack Obama

What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives -- from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry -- an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.

 -- Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

Barack Obama spoke of "a new declaration of independence" while beginning the trip to his inauguration. In his call for us to rise above instinctively formed prejudice, Obama appeals, as President Abraham Lincoln once did in his innaugural address, to "our better angels."

Obama acknowledges that "our easy instincts" include "prejudice and bigotry." CompassionRise previously discussed that people are not inherently racist, but science does describe that we depend on prejudices in our daily lives. Some prejudice is rooted in the social norms with which we are raised, some is rooted in our own experience, but neither are valid ways of judging individuals.

The better angels to which Obama appeals are the better parts of our nature, with which we all are born. Obama is asserting that we have and need to better exercise free will, and that our mindful choices are ethically superior to prejudice and ideology. These angels are not supernatural, winged and robed spirits floating over us on the breath of a god. Our better angels are of us and they act by our command. Our better angels are our will, our potential, and our compassion.

Obama speaks to us not only as citizens, but as people: "What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives." He is providing not only political leadership, such as a new government policy; he is also providing ethical leadership for a more civil society.

Obama calls for our independence "from ideology and small thinking." He sees a nation and communities still divided -- by race, religion, political perspective, and more. Obama calls on all people to open their minds. To face the challenges ahead, we must think not as Hispanics, Gays, Christians, Republicans, Asians, Jews, and so on.

At times we must not even think as Americans. Barack Obama went to Berlin in the summer of 2008, during the heat of a presidential campaign in which his loyalty to America was questioned. There he spoke to 200,000 people, boldly calling himself "A fellow citizen of the world" in a speech entitled "A World That Stands as One." This internationalizing of the American Presidency is not uniquely Obama's nor uniquely Democratic. It has become customary in recent decades for able, former U.S. Presidents to serve the interests of the world -- Carter, the first Bush, Clinton, and similarly Gore.

Obama separates our need for open minds from our duties as citizens and our needs as a nation, stressing that freedom from ideology is needed by and for all of us. To realize our potential we must think as people, and act together as a people.

January 17, 2009

A New Spirituality

The Dalai Lama

I believe deeply that we must find, all of us together, a new spirituality.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

 

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

The words above, at the center of today's discussion, answer a question asked several times of CompassionRise: if you are not Tibetan Buddhist, or even Buddhist, or even religious, then why should you so often discuss the Dalai Lama? A similar message from the Dalai Lama was discussed where he said in part "Compassion is not religious business; it is human business."

The man Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th Dalai Lama, just as the man Joseph Ratzinger is Pope Benedict XVI. CompassionRise has often discussed the compassionate wisdom of the Dalai Lama, and though we most often use his popular title, "the Dalai Lama," we first refer to him as Tenzin Gyatso. We seek his guidance not as a god-king, the living divinity in Tibetan Buddhism and the ruler of the Tibetan people; it is when he speaks as a man that he speaks to us all, and he is most wise.

The first Dalai Lama ruled 500 years ago, and Tenzin Gyatso was taught from a young age to follow in his footsteps and in the paths of all the Dalai Lamas. In his mesage today, the Dalai Lama walks in what may be a much older, more compassionate, and wiser path than any Dalai Lama before him.

2,500 years ago, it is written that there lived a prince named Siddhārtha Gautama in what we now call Nepal and India. The incredible story of Siddhārtha Gautama's life has no doubt been exaggerated and we cannot have total confidence in its details, but it is along this same path that the Dalai Lama walks today and it is thus that we appeal to his guidance. The story has inspirational merit, at least.

From Wikipedia:

Siddhārtha, destined to a luxurious life as a prince, had three palaces (for seasonal occupation) especially built for him. His father, King Śuddhodana, wishing for Siddhārtha to be a great king, shielded his son from religious teachings or knowledge of human suffering.

Siddhārtha spent 29 years as a Prince in Kapilavastu. Although his father ensured that Siddhārtha was provided with everything he could want or need, Siddhārtha felt that material wealth was not the ultimate goal of life.

At the age of 29,
Siddhārtha left his palace in order to meet his subjects. Despite his father's effort to remove the sick, aged and suffering from the public view, Siddhārtha was said to have seen an old man. Disturbed by this, when told that all people would eventually grow old by his charioteer Channa, the prince went on further trips where he encountered, variously, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic.

Deeply depressed by these sights, he sought to overcome old age, illness, and death by living the life of an ascetic, for himself. While still 29 years old, he left his palace forever.

Later in his life and still 2,500 years later, the man Siddhārtha Gautama has been called another name: "the Buddha." He starved himself to know the suffering of the starving, and endured other trials intentionally while seeking to find the root cause of all suffering. In time, he concluded that the root cause of suffering was ignorance, and he then devoted his life to teaching what he had learned.

If it is the case that all the story of Prince Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha's life, is historically true, then it is because a path so great was found that we know of it still, 2,500 years later. Or, if it is the case that a path so great was simply imagined, then we know of it still just as an ideal, as inspiration. It does not matter. What is important is that we have walking beside us now a man, Tenzin Gyatso, who is walking a similar path.

For the leader of a religion to see a world divided, then to say that religion is not enough: this is the Buddha's celebrated path. The Dalai Lama says "I believe deeply that we must find, all of us together, a new spirituality" and he is not suggesting we should all become Tibetan Buddhists.

In his preparation from childhood for a life as the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso was taught the story of the Buddha. He in turn has endured great personal sacrifice to teach all people a universal lesson of compassion. Perhaps he walks the path of Siddhārtha Gautama due to direct inspiration, or perhaps he has learned from life experience that we must find a new spirituality beyond our religious divisions; this also does not matter.

At the heart of every religion is an honest principle, an inviolable ethic of compassion which is the logical undoing of that religion. At every religion's ideological center is a claim that it alone is the one, true religion. The Dalai Lama has followed the ethic of compassion to reject the ideological center of his and every religion.

The audacity of his statement and its circumstance draw the attention of the world. Compassion does not call us to nod our heads in approval. We are not called to follow, we are called to lead.

January 16, 2009

Community and Inner Strength

The Dalai Lama

When we pray together, I feel something. If we utilize it properly, this feeling is very helpful for developing our inner strength.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

 

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

To relate the Dalai Lama's observation to something of universal value to all people, who may follow any religion or no religion, we need to address the definition of "prayer." Some definitions are similar to "Addressing a deity, a prophet, or an object of worship. Petitioning or soliciting help from a supernatural being." Other purposes for prayer may include confession, meditation, or thanksgiving. Some definitions of prayer are not at all religious.

The most nonreligious and unbiased definition of prayer, which we will use, may include "Contemplative meditation, affirmations, and reflection on sacred texts or wisdom." By this definition, CompassionRise is a daily prayer.

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.

The Dalai Lama discusses praying together, and using the feeling derived of that common experience to develop inner strength. The Bahá'í Faith is a religion alongside its nonreligious, philosophical ideas, and its nonreligious ideas include a "Philosophy of Common Experience." This philosophy is essentially a long form of the Dalai Lama's message today. As CompassionRise interprets: no matter what our religion, we should not only meditate or pray alone. We should gather in communities to express our common dreams, wishes, confessions, and thanksgiving. Together we can each and all be stronger.

January 15, 2009

Our Sense of Well-Being

The Dalai Lama

The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

 

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

If you search CompassionRise for "happiness" you will find a handful of results -- see the search feature on the upper right side of the start page. Before discussing more of the Dalai Lama's observation today, here are summaries of the three most relevant search results for "happiness."

In We Are the Makers, the Dalai Lama observed: "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions." CompassionRise observed:

External circumstances such as more material success do not give you more happiness. Many of the most powerful and wealthy people are also famously unhappy. 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 Look On the Bright Side, the Dalai Lama related of his own, personal happiness: "The fact that there is always a positive side to life is the one thing that gives me a lot of happiness. This world is not perfect. There are problems. But things like happiness and unhappiness are relative. Realizing this gives you hope." CompassionRise related:

By reaching out to others, we may find the inspiration, encouragement, or help we need, or find someone who needs our help; either can make us happy. We may share in others' happiness, or just find something to make us smile.

In Freedom and Creativity, the Dalai Lama stated: "Freedom is the real source of human happiness and creativity." CompassionRise stated:

The detachment of government from religion begun by nonreligious American founders like Thomas Jefferson also allowed for unprecedented cultural creativity, a melting pot with room for personal freedom. The separation of church and state is both derived of and fundamental to ... pursuit of happiness.

The United States' Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson to both rationalize separation from Britain and to inspire Americans to the task itself. Jefferson described what he called the "inalienable rights" of all people, and in so doing used the famous phrase, "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Today the Dalai Lama connects our personal happiness directly to how much we care for the happiness of others. During the 2008 Seeds of Compassion gathering in Seattle, the Dalai Lama said often: "The purpose of life is to be happy." From this it would follow that the happier we are, the more alive we become, or the more of our potential life we have lived. Connecting his message during Seeds of Compassion to his message today, we could say that the purpose of each life is to care for the lives of others. Our biological nature calls us to a life of service.

That is an admirable, but theoretical conclusion; we at least hope it is true, that our biology in fact calls us to care for each other. Science says this idea may be more than wishful thinking. With only basic research, we can find neuroscience in support of biological compassion.

In fact we will turn to neuroscience as written for children. The following material has been used to teach introductory and practical neuroscience to thousands of school children in the United States:

The emotional coping function is also known as the mammalian brain since it is common to all mammals whose babies are born live and completely dependent upon their mother for survival. Neuroscientists refer to this essential brain function as the limbic system. Without our emotional brain mothers would not feel an instinctive need to nurture and feed their young. Nor would babies recognize and sense that their survival depends upon staying close to their mother for protection.

[The mammalian brain] provides us with the ability to understand and sense the deepest feelings of others. This gives us the ability to feel sad when others do; or share the joy of others in a group having fun. This connection to others' feelings is what makes us want to to sacrifice ourselves for others we care about.

The emotional brain senses being more safe when we belong and have a connection with others.

Whatever your definition of "well-being," certainly safety is a part of it. It is established scientific fact that we biologically feel safer when we feel connected to others, when we feel that we belong among them. The Dalai Lama calls on us to reach out to others, to create these connections, to join others. When we gather with other people, we care about them, and when we care about them, we increase our own well-being.

January 14, 2009

Science and Humility

The Dalai Lama

In this ever-changing world there are two important things that we should keep in mind. The first is self-examination. We should reexamine our own attitude toward others and constantly check ourselves. Second, we must be prepared to admit our faults and stand corrected.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

The scientific method calls for constant examination, measurement, and testing, and then for honesty and humility with results. Science requires comfort with doubt and confrontation of uncertainty. Science requires that we take a guess -- they call it a hypothesis -- we must lay our reputations on the line with our egos beside us.

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.

This mentality should not be carried beyond practicality. We do need "working definitions," to take educated guesses, and we need to make attempts before we know if they will work. Our minds cannot be so open that we essentially do not know anything and cannot act. Instead, we must define what we know not as certainty but as our best judgment, then continue to question what we know.

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.

There is a popular distinction between professional and amateur scientists; there should not be. There is a phrase "trained scientist" and even the simple title, "scientist," which is generally used to drive consensus and defend opinions. If you know better and you can prove it, then you have earned license to ignore these titles. It does not matter what college you did or did not attend, it is your understanding of the scientific method which matters. If you know it and apply its principles in your work and life, then you are a scientist. Many a "trained scientist" has less humility than he or she should; practice of science in work does not replace practice of science in all the rest of your private and public life.

Do not fear disagreement with the conclusion of a "trained scientist," but understand that as the scientific method requires, you will need to provide at least as much reason for your disagreement. Science is no more or less difficult than any other form of honesty. In this article from science journalist James Hrynyshyn, we see the mistake and the admission of Steven Goddard, a popular writer who disagreed with "trained scientists." Goddard's original conclusion was due to an error in his understanding of available information. In a positive example of the Dalai Lama's message today, Goddard later admitted his mistake publicly. In an example of how far many of us have yet to progress, however, Hrynyshyn notes other writers who cited the wrong version of Goddard's assertion to support their own, related arguments. Later these writers failed to update their citations and their own, consequently wrong conclusions.

Though it has room to grow, science has been popularized a great deal. Once it was the practice of a tiny percentage of people. It was a guarded, private wisdom even as it had in its heart a profound public concern. In his address to The British Balneological and Climatological Society in 1903, President E. Symes Thompson stated: "Ours is a scientific Society in which the welfare of all is the aim of each." In modern times, let us replace the guarded, private "Society" with our shared, public "society." Let us practice more science, and make the welfare of all our aim.

January 13, 2009

Respect and Responsibility

The Dalai Lama

Follow the three Rs:
Respect for self
Respect for others
Responsibility for all your actions

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

The Dalai Lama's talent for universality is evident -- stated as such, everyone would agree to respect and responsibility. This is a simple message we can repeat as needed.

In the order of his lesson we can find further guidance. "Respect for self" comes first. We must have self awareness and self confidence before we can effectively respect others.

"Respect for others" follows, as it would naturally from a combination of respect for self and the internationally recognized Golden Rule -- on which nearly all religions and philosophies agree. Simply stated, that is to treat others as you would have them treat you, or as you would treat yourself. Respect for others should be a matter of course.

Respect in general is a mindset. You can have more respect for yourself or others simply as a matter of attitude. Responsibility though, is more practical, it is the test of respect. If you have respect for yourself and others, then you will take responsibility for all your actions without being otherwise reminded.

We have shown that the second 'R' follows from the first, and the third from the second; by stating all three, the Dalai Lama is acknowledging our need for guidance. We need both philosophical wisdom and practical instruction.

Perhaps because it is more practical, the third 'R' is the one which has caused some debate, though we can all agree to the sentiment of responsibility. In the United States, one deep source of inspiration has been The Great Law of the Iroquois. Their most famous proclamation: "In every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations." A primary founder of the U.S., Ben Franklin followed this rule in making his own socially responsible investments, in forming and advising the new American nation, and Franklin also referred to the Iroquois often when counseling other American investors.

"Responsibility for all your actions" has been understood differently by ethical and legal scholars over time. For example, liability insurance raises ethical and practical issues when someone not directly involved in an accident can be paid to take responsibility on behalf of someone to whom responsibility ethically belongs. Fowler V. Harper & Fleming James, Jr. became a standard part of legal education, as in "Freedom and Responsibility -- Readings in Philosophy and Law" for investigating questions about insurance, including: "Does it dilute the deterrent effect of liability upon the individual? Does this tend to foster irresponsibility?"

A lot of the debate is more complicated, but the simple question of how we take and share responsibility needs to be asked by all of us no matter whether we are lawyers, scholars, or illiterate. At last count in 2006, insurance was a US$ 3.7 trillion industry. Should it be? If individual responsibility has been diluted, is it an ethical equivalent to replace that with shared responsibility? Could shared responsibility even be ethically superior to individualism, promising and requiring cooperation?

There are certainly more laws than ever, each of them with more words than ever. There are more lawsuits than ever, too. Justice systems both in and between nations are getting busier and stronger. Both legal and effective tax rates are generally climbing. More nations, roughly two thirds, are now democracies than ever. In these regards we are more responsible for our actions than ever, at every level of society.

Find some way, today, that you can take more responsibility for your actions, or help others do the same. When disagreement arises, keep respect in mind and on the tip of your tongue.

January 12, 2009

Our Face of Love

Eddie Vedder

It's understandable why someone would like their entertainment to provide an escape from worries and reality. This record creates a healthy opportunity to process some of these emotions rather than deny them. Music's at its best when it has a purpose.

-- Eddie Vedder

Sister Helen Prejean

I live my life with as much integrity as I can muster, which means doing what love demands. Anyone can do what I've done, and if given an opportunity, would… Enlightened self interest? You better believe it. Because when we love, truly love, we become very alive; we grow, and if that’s not "self interest," I don’t know what is.

-- Sister Helen Prejean

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

Yesterday we asked:

What was it that brought together an atheist rock star from Seattle and a Sufi Muslim Qawwali singer from Pakistan? The song "Face of Love" by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Eddie Vedder was an unlikely collaboration.

Yesterday's CompassionRise article, named after the song Face of Love, introduced the topic. At the bottom of today's article, again, are the song's lyrics, translation, and a copy for listening. You may want to begin with yesterday's article for context and you can click here to listen to "Face of Love" in your music player.

Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun from New Orleans, wrote the book Dead Man Walking to recount and reconcile her companionship with convicted killers sentenced to die -- and with the families of their victims. Before the book and since, she has worked with death row inmates, their victims' families, and with a broader campaign to raise awareness of the death penalty in the United States.

An American Catholic, Tim Robbins made the film "Dead Man Walking" by scripting a simplified version of Sister Prejean's story, depicting experiences with one inmate and victim's family, to focus the film. Robbins brought Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Eddie Vedder together to write two songs for Dead Man Walking's haunting and inspiring soundtrack, including "Face of Love." Though not its title track, the song became a musical metaphor representing the film. Sister Prejean points to the success of Dead Man Walking in 1995 as a turning point in American opinion against the death penalty.

The opening and closing scenes of the film are set to parts of "Face of Love." They show rural fields with a long road, then urban streets with people -- children and traffic. The unremarkable, familiar context begins and ends a story with which we can each, personally identify. Robbins has a subtle way of telling us: although it will be incredible, this story is real.

The story told in the film is one of simple but profound compassion in Sister Prejean's actions and interactions with other characters. It sheds direct light on the death penalty -- an often unconsidered act of our justice system, done in our name but out of our view. We are shown the humanity of a man sentenced to die. His personality is sharp, hostile at times but not inhuman. He is also in great pain, weakened by a tortured past, conflicted, and ultimately penitent. With the possessed acting of Susan Sarandon as Sister Prejean and Sean Penn as the killer on death row, and the steady direction of Tim Robbins, every scene rings true to life. As viewers, we are confronted by the film's honesty.

The "Dead Man Walking" script has several direct, poignant exchanges. Between Sister Prejean and a prison guard:

CLYDE PERCY: How can you stand next to him?
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Mr. Percy, I'm just trying to follow the example of Jesus, who said that a person is not as bad as his worst deed.
CLYDE PERCY: This is not a person. This is an animal.

Between Sister Prejean and the man sentenced to die:

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Show me some respect, Matthew.
MATTHEW PONCELET: Why? 'Cause you're a nun?
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Because I'm a person.

Our common humanity is the thread from which compassion is woven. In recent writing, Sister Prejean reflected on the way in which people who are otherwise ethical can support the death penalty or any killing, such as in war: "It’s all about dehumanizing -- defining someone as 'other' or not 'fully human' so we can redefine 'moral behavior' in relation."

Again from the script -- Sister Prejean to Matthew Poncelet:

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: I want the last face you see in this world to be the face of love, so you look at me when they do this thing. I'll be the face of love for you.

Here the script's words are close to the accounts in Sister Prejean's book. In real life, Sister Prejean also, recently wrote in an open reply to a murder victim's surviving family: "I cannot stand directly in the flames of anguish you must feel." Her real words and deeds are at least as moving as the film.

This CompassionRise article is called "Our Face of Love" because we are called to ask if we limit our compassion, how, and why. "Dead Man Walking" does not take a side in the political debate over the death penalty. It forces us to face only the facts -- that while those sentenced to die are killers, they are also people; and, if we support the death penalty then we, too, are killers. We are nearly put in the skin of each character, including the guards and the executioner. We are compelled to ask and answer ourselves personally, not politically, if it can be right to kill.

The song "Face of Love" has a similar, but poetic and musical way of setting a familiar mood then telling an incredible story. Common instruments like acoustic guitar and an easy, though persistent rhythm sit firmly under the unbelievable vocal ranges of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Eddie Vedder.

Indian instruments including the harmonium and tabla drum swell with stirring, reluctant emotion, just like the film's events unfolding. Sister Prejean reluctantly sees the humanity in a killer, the killer reluctantly faces his humility. They stare each into their own abyss of loneliness before admitting their common humanity.

The vocals more represent this full range of possible emotion, from Sister Prejean's plain but profound love for other people to the agony of everyone involved. If Sister Prejean or anyone else "just wanted to scream," then in "Face of Love" we hear that scream, too, right alongside earnestly intoned purpose. Given five minutes, Nusrat and Vedder seem to sing the whole range of what a person can feel.

If you think that description is lyrical, consider this from Rolling Stone Magazine in 1996:

Their uplifting harmonies fly like the freed human spirit over a gruesome and cruel scene here on earth. This song is unparalleled in its pure expression of raw spirituality.

Their effort was so widely applauded as a cross-cultural achievement, too that America.gov, a site produced by the United States to represent the U.S. internationally, features the story prominently more than ten years after their work and Nusrat's passing. From 2008:

This is a case where the well-meaning effort of artists to reach across cultural and musical boundaries does produce something like an aesthetic communion, a common purpose embodied in musical texture and poetry.

Director Tim Robbins described their collaboration and all the songs on the soundtrack:

Nusrat's going off in Qawwali and Vedder sings in English, but you don't need to understand what they're saying to feel the emotion.

All of these songwriters come from a base of honesty and have inspired me. Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle and Eddie Vedder have introduced me to concepts and characters in their songs that have found their way into my acting and have given life to characters I've written. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Suzanne Vega, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Michelle Shocked all have inspired me with their compassion and unique strength.

And Johnny Cash...well, are there words? I'll try. Johnny Cash has been there. He knows the world of this movie. In his music, he stands up front for the dispossessed, the poor, the prisoner. Like all great songwriters on this CD, he's here forever, to remind us that we have hearts, we have compassion even for those that have fallen, that have hit bottom.

The version of the soundtrack to which I have linked is a special edition reissued in 2006, which also includes video of a "Not in Our Name" concert for relevant charities. Tim Robbins et al. continue to send some proceeds from album sales to two related organizations. Some proceeds go to Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, organized to end violence as an answer for violence.

Proceeds are also sent to Hope House in New Orleans, Sister Helen Prejean’s organization fighting racism, poverty, and all the root causes of violence. Their educational programs, food distribution, and other practical work are a model and inspiration for many organizations. Sister Prejean has a singular motivation for all her work:

I don't see capital punishment as a peripheral issue about some criminals at the edge of society that people want to execute. I see the death penalty connected to the three deepest wounds of our society: racism, poverty, and violence.

Hope House Director Don Everard was quoted by Robin Garr, a journalist who has visited over 500 grassroots programs in all 50 American states. He described their ethic:

Social workers go home at 5 p.m. We don't. This has made all the difference.

The same, practical morale is evident in Sister Prejean's words, from her blog recently:

The important thing is that when you come to understand something you act on it, no matter how small that act is. Eventually it will take you where you need to go.

The depth of spiritual guidance offered to us by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Eddie Vedder, and Sister Helen Prejean did not spring out of the mouths of babes. In their own searches for compassion and meaning, they had many experiences from which we can learn.

Nusrat was not often interviewed on such subjects in Western media, but in general, Sufi Muslims are less religious in their particular beliefs and more philosophical. They favor creativity and intuition over literal reference to the Koran and the Hadith. Nusrat often called his Western musical collaborations "experiments," and his mastery of vocal music opened possibilities for him to find common spiritual ground. He sang and smiled more than he spoke or wrote.

CompassionRise is sure to appeal to Eddie Vedder again. Though he is personally enigmatic and less interviewed than many rock stars, he has produced a significant body of meaningful music and art. His work includes lyrics from which we can derive many lessons. Consider these four, simple lines in "Face of Love" --

Look in the eyes
Of the face of love

Look in her eyes
Oh, there is peace

Vedder sees the personal, human connection between Sister Prejean and the condemned as the essence of compassion, and he sees compassion as the essence of peace. His words are also plain and practical -- we should look into each others' eyes -- yet their meaning could guide an entire life.

Nothing can be written with more expression than can be found in "Dead Man Walking," "Face of Love," or most of all, in taking action ourselves. Reach out to Sister Helen Prejean on her blog, or even on her Twitter. Reach out to the organizations above or act in your part of the world and in your own way.

Click to listen to "Face of Love" in your music player.

 

"Face Of Love"
by Eddie Vedder and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Jeena kaisa Pyar bina (What is life without love)
Is Duniya Mein Aaye ho to (Now that you have come to this world)
Ek Duje se pyar karo (Love each other, one another)

Jeena kaisa Pyar bina (What is life without love)
Is Duniya Mein Aaye ho to (Now that you have come to this world)
Ek Duje se pyar karo (Love each other, one another)

Look in the eyes
Of the face of love
Look in her eyes
Oh, there is peace
No nothing dies
Within pure light
Only one hour
Of this pure love
To last a life
Of thirty years
Only one hour
So come and go

Jeena kaisa Pyar bina (What is life without love)
Is Duniya Mein Aaye ho to (Now that you have come to this world)
Ek Duje se pyar karo (Love each other, one another)

Jeena kaisa Pyar bina (What is life without love)
Is Duniya Mein Aaye ho to (Now that you have come to this world)
Ek Duje se pyar karo (Love each other, one another)

Look in the eyes
Of the face of love
Look in her eyes
Oh, there is peace
No nothing dies
Within pure light
Only one hour
Of this pure love
To last a life
Of thirty years
Only one hour
So come and go

January 11, 2009

Face of Love

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (نصرت فتح على خاں)

Jeena kaisa Pyar bina
Is Duniya Mein Aaye ho to
Ek Duje se pyar karo

 -- Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (نصرت فتح على خاں)

 

Eddie Vedder

Look in the eyes
Of the face of love
Look in her eyes
Oh, there is peace

 -- Eddie Vedder

Click to listen to "Face of Love" in your music player.

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

The song "Face of Love" by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Eddie Vedder was an unlikely collaboration. What was it that brought together an atheist rock star from Seattle and a Sufi Muslim Qawwali singer from Pakistan?

You would expect the answer to be dramatic, and it was: three American Catholics in Hollywood -- Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and Sean Penn -- who were moved by the compassionate, human communion between a nun from New Orleans and convicted killers who were sentenced to die.

If you knew the story of Sister Helen Prejean you would be moved, too, by her simple but incredible compassion in being a companion, even a friend to convicted killers -- while being the same to the families of their victims. Tim Robbins made the film "Dead Man Walking" based on Sister Prejean's book, Dead Man Walking. In it, Susan Sarandon portrayed Sister Prejean and Sean Penn portrayed a convicted killer at the end of his life.

Tim Robbins brought Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Eddie Vedder together to write two songs for Dead Man Walking's haunting and inspiring soundtrack, including "Face of Love."

Listen to the song and read its lyrics (also translated into English below). Tomorrow we will read further into Sister Prejean's experiences, the film, and "Face of Love."

UPDATE: the next article has been published, and addresses Our Face of Love.

Click to listen to "Face of Love" in your music player.

 

"Face Of Love"
by Eddie Vedder and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Jeena kaisa Pyar bina (What is life without love)
Is Duniya Mein Aaye ho to (Now that you have come to this world)
Ek Duje se pyar karo (Love each other, one another)

Jeena kaisa Pyar bina (What is life without love)
Is Duniya Mein Aaye ho to (Now that you have come to this world)
Ek Duje se pyar karo (Love each other, one another)

Look in the eyes
Of the face of love
Look in her eyes
Oh, there is peace
No nothing dies
Within pure light
Only one hour
Of this pure love
To last a life
Of thirty years
Only one hour
So come and go

Jeena kaisa Pyar bina (What is life without love)
Is Duniya Mein Aaye ho to (Now that you have come to this world)
Ek Duje se pyar karo (Love each other, one another)

Jeena kaisa Pyar bina (What is life without love)
Is Duniya Mein Aaye ho to (Now that you have come to this world)
Ek Duje se pyar karo (Love each other, one another)

Look in the eyes
Of the face of love
Look in her eyes
Oh, there is peace
No nothing dies
Within pure light
Only one hour
Of this pure love
To last a life
Of thirty years
Only one hour
So come and go

January 10, 2009

The Purpose of Meditation

The Dalai Lama

The very purpose of meditation is to discipline the mind and reduce afflictive emotions.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

 

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

Note the difference between "affective" and afflictive. It's not only good for your vocabulary, it also highlights that the purpose of meditation is not to reduce emotions generally -- it is only to reduce negative and painful, or afflictive emotions. In the science fiction series "Star Trek," the Vulcan species is at once respected and disliked by Humans because of Vulcans' relative lack of emotions. We should suspect the pursuit of meditation, prayer, or any spirituality which reduces all emotion or in other ways makes us less human. In Star Trek, Vulcans use daily meditation and other cultural and personal mechanisms to control all emotions. They want logic to prevail over their natural, especially selfish and violent tendencies.

People do naturally have selfish and violent tendencies, and we also naturally have altruistic and peaceful tendencies. All are rooted partly in emotion, so for that reason and just for our general enjoyment of life, we only want to reduce negative emotions. The Dalai Lama's message is practical. Do not seek spirituality in a grand goal to make yourself less human, seek to improve your daily life and your whole life will benefit.

There are definitions of meditation which would describe some people's entire lives as meditative, just as there are some definitions of prayer which would define an entire life as prayerful. Like prayer, meditation could include public, interactive experiences such as singing, working together, or doing something unselfish. This perspective on meditation can be useful, but is essentially beyond the scope of the definition of meditation in this article. The meditation considered in this article is more personal, inward looking, and generally private.

In the greater definition of meditation as any mindful action or thought, the Dalai Lama's message is also, ultimately practical. Meditation is working intentionally to reform our biological minds, which operate on reaction before prejudice and prejudice before consciousness. Practice makes closer to perfect, so any time we mindfully practice compassion, doing so becomes more normal.

We have all experienced the symptoms of minds operating much of the time on expectations. In yesterday's article on Freedom and Creativity, we considered a quote from Carl Sagan's Dragons of Eden:

When I leave my office and get into my car, I find that, unless I make a specific effort of will, I will drive myself home. When I leave home and get into my car, unless I make a similar conscious effort, there is a part of my brain that arranges events so that I end up at my office. If I change my home or my office, after a short period of learning, the new locales supplant the old ones, and whatever brain mechanism controls such behavior has readily adapted to the new coordinates.

We quickly recognize and greet people we normally see because we expect to see them; being surprised to see someone we did not expect can be a jarring experience. Any surprise reduces our ability to understand and interact, and so we fear the unknown, and so we avoid the unknown. As with any activity, practicing compassion in public meditation and preparing yourself for it in private meditation will make compassion a matter of course for you. If you focus not on being less human, but on knowing your human self better, self discipline, and reduction of negative emotion, your practice will bring you closer to perfect without alienating you from a fulfilling life.

Those who make profound, mindful choices in their lives often describe an awakening of a new self. If you have generally been more selfish than not, then you will experience the thrill of your emotional momentum when you reach a tipping point in your practice of compassion. When you become generally more compassionate than not, it will feel like your more disciplined mind, your greater purpose in life, and even your identity, are all new. To have greater personal control through greater intent -- over your everyday thoughts, actions, and feelings -- is a great joy. It will brighten your days and give your whole life greater purpose.

January 09, 2009

Freedom and Creativity

The Dalai Lama

Freedom is the real source of human happiness and creativity. Irrespective of whether you are a believer or nonbeliever, whether Buddhist, Christian, or Jew, the important thing is to be a good human being.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

Is freedom necessary for creativity, or does freedom in fact inhibit creativity? The question is often asked personally by writers, graphic artists, musicians, and other artists. Professional creative generalists Arun Verma, Krishna Moorthy, and others debate the observation of novelist Willa Cather that there is no true freedom in art, and through the links on that page, wrestle with their own balance of freedom and creativity.

Creativity and freedom are a binary star around which all human intellectual activity orbits, not only brainstorming or the creative arts. Bruce Jilk, probably the world's most insightful educational facility designer, has worked in dozens of nations planning single room schools, entire campuses, and forming some of the most practical yet holistic theory used therefor. In this personal account and his other writing, he connects his experiences with national cultural freedom to the design of spaces meant to inspire freedom and creativity in education.

Bernard Bailyn of Harvard University reflected in 1976 on the year 1776, the first 200 years of the United States, and the emergence of modern democratic society. He showed that the de facto personal and cultural liberty enjoyed by Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and many others enabled them to understand, secure, and govern freedom for millions more -- see “1776: A Year of Challenge -- A World Transformed” in The Journal of Law and Economics. The strained freedom they enjoyed and their creativity in nationalizing it have led us to here and now, when the large majority of humankind enjoys democratic liberty, though still not all.

The detachment of government from religion begun by nonreligious American founders like Thomas Jefferson also allowed for unprecedented cultural creativity, a melting pot with room for personal freedom. The Dalai Lama's words today could seem like two disconnected sentences without this context: "Freedom is the real source of human happiness and creativity. Irrespective of whether you are a believer or nonbeliever, whether Buddhist, Christian, or Jew, the important thing is to be a good human being." The separation of church and state is both derived of and fundamental to governmental protection and service of personal freedom, creativity, and pursuit of happiness.

CompassionRise is itself a working balance between freedom and creativity. For every page on the site to load quickly, both technically speaking and visually or psychologically for easier reading, there is a target size for each page's data. These requirements primarily limit graphics. The creative limitation grants freedom though, too, in less effort spent preparing graphics and less effort for visitors interpreting graphics.

Another deliberate creative limitation at CompassionRise: this is a daily blog. There may be more than one article on some days, but there will be one article every day; i.e., compassion rising like the Sun. Only so much can be written in a daily article. The format might stretch as far as "essay." This limitation is also license, freedom, good reason to work things through quickly to points, draw conclusions, and exhale. Work must begin and end daily, and each day must be different from every other.

This is not to avoid depth and editors, but to avoid the combination thereof that keeps too much work behind the curtain. Writing long form is an investment which may never come to market. CompassionRise is an open invitation to conversation, not a memoir and not even a Sunday morning paper account of the week's work and weekend's events. Before the Seeds of Compassion gathering in Seattle in 2008, CompassionRise began in earnest as research for a thesis on universal, secular ethics and civil society. Almost one year later, that work was too earnest to fly the coop. To focus, limit, and constrain creativity can also be to set it free.

What is it about people that we must limit ourselves to unlimit ourselves? There is a simple answer, not sourced by scientific studies if supported by them: evolution. We have evolved in significantly more difficult circumstances than those in which we typically, modernly live. Our biological selves are primed for creativity under limitation. With creative sparks and intrepid will, our species survived and emerged from an Ice Age which killed most of what lived on Earth.

Here on our computers and devices, at home on a couch, in the office at a desk, and even while actively in competition, having it too easy bothers us, annoys us, can drive us to insanity. We are suspicious if anything seems too simple and we resent others who seem to have it easier. Having achieved what people have longed for over millions of years -- to sit idle, safe, happy, in control, and simply be entertained -- we revel briefly, then suffer boredom. Having everything is not enough.

Evolutionary theory can reveal a lot about our common motivations and abilities, and can also help engineer our improvement. One of the world's most insightful popular science writers, Alan Boyle published another thoughtful article today about evolutionary theory -- and its evolution. With his daily science blog, Alan shepherds loose knit readers whose comments are also pragmatic and entertaining. In his scientifically casual but socially serious book The Dragons of Eden -- Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, popular scientist Carl Sagan used personal observations and evolutionary theory to derive insight on our creativity and freedom. From Dragons of Eden:

When I leave my office and get into my car, I find that, unless I make a specific effort of will, I will drive myself home. When I leave home and get into my car, unless I make a similar conscious effort, there is a part of my brain that arranges events so that I end up at my office. If I change my home or my office, after a short period of learning, the new locales supplant the old ones, and whatever brain mechanism controls such behavior has readily adapted to the new coordinates.

CompassionRise would appeal to scientific analysis and not only logical hypotheses based on scientific theory; observation is only the first step, and hypotheses only a middle step in the scientific method. For today, taking permission from Professor Sagan, we will close with a rule of thumb for freedom and creativity and a plausible idea of what in our nature may be our nemesis. Considering the creative limitations of this daily article, today's summary advice on creative limitation should be: apply as needed.

January 08, 2009

Ignorance and Real Peace

The Dalai Lama

Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

 

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

Ignorance and lack of peace are connected: by fear. In ignorance, we fear; in fear, we lack peace. Nobel peace prize laureate L. B. Pearson famously declared that "Misunderstanding ... arising from ignorance breeds fear, and fear remains the greatest enemy of peace" in his 1957 Nobel Lecture, "The Four Faces of Peace" which was given in the context of the Cold War.

Misunderstandings can lead personally nonviolent people, collected as a group, into violence and collected as a nation, into war. Misunderstandings create conflict without reason. Fear is the enemy of reason in any degree, and as Professor Andrew Lo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology stated this morning on CNN International, "The strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." To forgive Professor Lo -- that quote has almost become cliché, with the original words written by H.P. Lovecraft. Four swords to slay the dragon of ignorance or misunderstanding: education, experience, communication, and patience.

The Pearson quote above is the part of his Nobel Lecture most often noted, and in fact those must be the most quoted words from Pearson's entire, inspiring life. Still, what he said that day in 1957, in just his next breath, is essential for compassionate understanding and appreciation of our progress since then:

Misunderstanding ... arising from ignorance breeds fear, and fear remains the greatest enemy of peace.

A common fear, however, which usually means a common foe, is also, regrettably, the strongest force bringing people together, but in opposition to something or someone. Perhaps there is a hopeful possibility here in the conquest of outer space. Interplanetary activity may give us planetary peace ... a really United Nations!

In 1957, Pearson regretted that only in fear was much of the world aligned and he imagined more positive possibilities. Space exploration was not just a casual interest. The Soviet Union had launched Sputnik 1 less than two months before the day he spoke -- the first object put into orbit around Earth. The American response was not publicly known at that time aside from general shock and hysteria that the Soviets were so far ahead in space and military technology. Despite Pearson's hopeful prescription, the American response would not prove to be one of peaceful collaboration in a common, global challenge. Instead, the United States responded in fear, most notably with heavy military investment, during what historians now call "the Sputnik crisis." Four months after Sputnik 1, two months after Pearson's Nobel Lecture, America launched our own first satellite and the world's second, Explorer 1.

Our circumstances, and what is right or wrong accordingly, are almost never as simple as wise words can make them seem. The Dalai Lama's opening volley in today's article are compact like a mantra; they require unpacking for most practical uses.

With America's hostile response to the Soviet Union's achievements, sandwiching Pearson's hopeful Nobel Lecture, hope could have been lost for peace. Instead, the seeds of compassion we have since enjoyed were being planted. Compassion requires that we go beyond good intentions and pure thoughts, to wade into ethical swamps and especially those of our making. 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.

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. The last 50 years of shared scientific and technological realization, though with dubious beginnings, have helped us achieve unprecedented global interdependence and relative peace.

Since 1957, real peace by collaboration through space exploration has had more success. The International Space Station (ISS) is one literally shining example of the possibilities for which Pearson hoped. For fun and inspiration, you can even go out at night, look up, and see the ISS with your own eyes -- no telescope or binoculars are needed -- and from your own home town. All you need to know is described on these pages by the European Space Agency, good for reference all around the world.

There is of course something even greater than space exploration bringing humanity together, most of it not out of fear but in positive interaction: the Internet. Incredibly, the Internet can trace its origins again to the Sputnik crisis. In 1958, as part of the United States' reaction to Sputnik, U.S. President Eisenhower began the United States Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. That agency immediately commenced gathering and funding computer network research and in 1969, ARPA researchers sent the first ever communication between two computers on the ancestor of today's Internet.

It might have been a more scripted story if the Internet was born entirely of an effort for peace, but this machinated wonder does not mind its origins. It has brought this article to you, and you to this article. Wikipedia is an example I point to often, with "684 million visitors yearly [and] more than 75,000 active contributors working on more than 10,000,000 articles in more than 260 languages" -- yet Wikipedia is a tiny fraction of all the activity online. In the middle of 2008, Google announced that their machines see more than 1 trillion unique pages on the web, making Wikipedia's 10 million articles still less than .001 percent of the web -- and that's not the Internet, it's only the web. The Internet also carries all our email, instant messaging, file transfers, and so many other aspects of modern interaction.

When you do the math counting current people online against the current population, roughly 1 in every 4 people alive today use the Internet. This is an incredible, splendid flood of education, experience, and communication. Patience, perhaps not, but new features are created every day to work around our impatience :) The Internet is the greatest challenge to ignorance humanity has ever made, it is the greatest effort for peace ever made, and we are making it together. "Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace." Where we master machines, we master ourselves, and we will make peace.

January 07, 2009

Look On the Bright Side

The Dalai Lama

The fact that there is always a positive side to life is the one thing that gives me a lot of happiness. This world is not perfect. There are problems. But things like happiness and unhappiness are relative. Realizing this gives you hope.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

Reaching out to others or just taking a good look around are simple ways to find happiness. By knowing more of what goes on in others' lives, we may find our own problems are not as bad as they feel. One of the photos I share below tells a story of a poor, but very happy woman in India. Stories like hers are easy to find online, no matter where in the world you live and even if the options for exploration in your offline life seem limited. Another of the happy photos below connects to an inspirational story of people helping children at risk in Brazil.

By reaching out to others, we may find the inspiration, encouragement, or help we need, or find someone who needs our help; either can make us happy. We may share in others' happiness, or just find something to make us smile. The Dalai Lama had more to say about happiness in a recent article here, We Are the Makers, where the basic message was: it's up to us to make ourselves happy, so get to it :)

A lot of the most effective reaching out, to connect with people, happens offline. Since we are here online though, I will share one of my favorite online resources for happiness and general exploration: Flickr. The web site's slogan is "almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing in the world," and I agree. Flickr has more than two billion photos and millions of people using the site, from every country in the world.

Searching Flickr for the word "happy" gives you more than three million results. Whatever depth of unhappiness you feel, due to something of serious, lifelong importance or just a fleeting boredom, you might find a happy antidote on Flickr.

Below are a handful of those three million possible sources of happiness. Each photo links to larger size and more information:

pOOr.... buT hAppY... by Dhilip in Kerala, India

A "poor but happy" woman, story and photo from Dhilip in Kerala, India

Happy New Year! with a moving personal story by Bill in Virginia, USA

"Happy New Year!" with a moving personal story by Bill in Virginia, USA

Be happy...! by Greg Smith of The Children At Risk Foundation in São Paulo, Brazil

"Be happy...!" by Greg Smith of The Children At Risk Foundation in São Paulo, Brazil
 
like a record... by Lee Cullivan of Boston, USA

Pure and simple joy :) in "like a record..." by Lee Cullivan of Boston, USA
 
Shiny Happy People by s.o.f.t.

A cute Japanese toy from a photographer in Madrid, Spain

Happy Fish by Chris Latham

Even fish can be caught looking happy, this one by Chris Latham in Halifax, UK

If the fish can do it, surely we all can. Look on the bright side and crack a smile :)

January 06, 2009

The Seeds of Compassion

The Dalai Lama

Compassion is not religious business; it is human business. It is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability; it is essential for human survival.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

A gathering called Seeds of Compassion took place in 2008 during a five-day visit to Seattle by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and thousands of others. Its purpose was to "explore the relationships, programs, and tools that nurture and empower children, families, and communities to be compassionate members of society."

With any new subject, it is my tendency to set the table with what I recently called "definition, history, and context." Without using the word "compassion" or focusing intently on its meaning, much of my life and work had been driven by similar ideas. In preparation for my participation in Seeds of Compassion, on the Seeds of Compassion Wiki article "Ideas to Nurture Kindness and Compassion," I published my working definition of compassion:

To plant the seeds of your own compassion, look at the roots of the word, 'compassion'. As in the word 'community', 'com' is the web of all living things -- all plants, all animals, all people, and everything that lives. Think of the passion you have for your friends and family, the passion you have for your work, your creations, and your ideas. When you see yourself as one living thing in a community of life, and when your passion for your own life is the same as your passion for the life of all things, then you have compassion.

My working definition from early 2008 blends well with the Dalai Lama's observation today. Compassion is personal first; it is needed by each of us as individuals. Then compassion is for our communities as an extension of ourselves.

The first part of the Dalai Lama's observation is often what surprises people most -- "Compassion is not religious business; it is human business." There is no one, true religion, as the Dalai Lama himself, the leader of his own religion, readily acknowledges. Every religion claims to be the one, true way to the exclusion of others, which can hardly be the case. If you are a follower of and contributor to any one particular religion, I can only encourage you to seek broader, more realistic solutions to the world's many problems. Compassion addresses the universality of our human condition, shared global issues, and the necessary universality of ethics and civil society.

Compassion is the ethical heart of an open, culturally compatible, and growing commons which includes shared art and culture, science, and technology. The practical essence of compassion is the edge needed to persevere through bounds of inertia and momentum like prejudice, belief, and dated tradition. We are all in this together, now more than ever and tomorrow more than today. We must continue to shed false and prohibitive divisions and to make our way forward together.

January 05, 2009

Nature v. Nurture

The Dalai Lama

If any sensible person thinks deeply, he will respect justice. There is an inborn appreciation and respect for justice within our human body. In children, we find what is natural to be the human character. But as they grow up, they develop a lot of conditioning and wrong attitudes. I often feel there is more truthfulness in a small child and I find reasons to have confidence in human courage and human nature.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

When I was about eight years old, a new kid named Larry joined our school. To the teachers he was quiet and he often apologized without having done anything wrong. He stood out for being so polite. On the other hand, he had a great sense of humor. If you could get him to talk, especially during class, he had the funniest things to say -- which did sometimes lead to more apologies :) We were seated according to our family names, which put Larry right next to me. That twist of fate and his sense of humor was enough to guarantee that Larry became a friend of mine.

I noticed slowly that as I spent more time talking to Larry at lunch or on the playground, many of the kids who usually talked to me had stopped. It had not occurred to me that Larry could be the reason, until one day, they showed their true colors. It was after we had been let loose onto the playground, a group of kids called out to me from behind. I turned around and they began picking on me. I still did not know why until finally, someone blurted it out -- it was because Larry was black.

I did not fully understand what was going on, and I remember being genuinely surprised that anyone would think Larry was not a good friend to have. I did understand that these kids were wrong and that Larry needed someone to stick up for him. I stayed friends with Larry and especially since he was new I made an extra effort to invite him into games and help him make more friends.

That was it. Although I expected and braced for more confrontation, there was never another disagreement with the kids you could call "racist." I didn't even know that word, then, and the word seems harsh because we were all just kids. You would have to say their words and actions were racist, without labeling kids as such, personally. From the day of that confrontation on, those kids and I, and Larry and our friends, had a live and let live sort of arrangement. I remember offering for them to join a game of dodgeball, and them declining. Most of the kids in my classes stayed the same from year to year, but Larry did not stay in our school for long, and I don't know why he left. His family probably had to move out as suddenly as they had to move in, and in any case, he was soon gone. I remember noticing there were no other black kids to be friends with. That effectively ended our experience with diversity, until later in life.

The experience of being Larry's friend has come back to me a few times since, especially when I wonder what role a typical "kids are cruel" story like mine has to play in the debate over nature and nurture. Are children born with an appreciation and respect for justice like the Dalai Lama says, until they are socialized to accept injustice? Could the opposite be true, that children are born cruel, then need socialization to understand and accept justice?

To answer that question in my own experience, I would need to know a lot more than I do about my classmates. Were they exposed to racist ideas at home and in their media and entertainment, or did they grow up in a home like mine, where my parents raised us to not see race at all? In my family, we saw our fair share of the TV show "Sesame Street" which has always been famous for its racial and ethnic equality, see for example this article from 1990 in The New York Times

Kids may be cruel in some general sense, but if I had to guess, then I would never expect to find that kids are born racist. We don't have to guess, of course; science is available to help answer if we are born racist or cruel, how, and why, and even to help us connect the dots to change the answers we don't like. For the general question we can start with an expert, Dr. Steven Parker of WebMD, who writes about children's health. In his 2008 article "Cruel Kids and Tribalism," he seems convinced that any natural cruelty in kids can be overcome with good, common sense parenting skills. "Get involved" is his summary advice to parents. Don't advise your children to ignore bullies; deal with it.

Racism is the essential cruelty I am addressing for a few reasons. First, race has been a part of my life experience, not only in my friendship with Larry but in many ways. For example, I am married to a wonderful woman of a different race, and together she and I have faced some racism from both our families. I am also addressing race because the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States has stirred the pot in America and around the world. With his white mother from Kansas and his black father from Kenya, and the rest of his compelling life story, he has gotten the world talking about race. That's as it should be, as there is much to talk about.

Finally, I am addressing race as an example of cruelty and injustice because racism is so common to the experience of all people, and because it is so plainly wrong. To state the obvious, you are born in your skin and you can do nothing about it, aside perhaps from some slight, temporary, and unhealthy darkening with a tan or lightening with cosmetics. The idea that having darker or lighter skin should be used to decide your value as a person is as common as it is unfair.

So are we born racists, and if so then can we be cured? Are we not born racists, but made racists by our cultures, and if so then how can we cure that, too? The case of Nature v. Nurture is much broader than this question of racism, but this is a prime example of the debate; I suggest starting with Wikipedia for more on Nature v. Nurture in general.

Barack Obama's election in 2008 provides a popular example of non-scientific reasons for hope: according to the conventional wisdom of professional pundits, younger voters did not consider race a factor in their decision making -- that link is to Tina Wells at The Huffington Post, a celebrated youth marketing consultant but not a scientist. The story goes that younger voters were raised after equal and civil rights were enjoyed by all races in America, and that their schools taught them racism was wrong, or even taught them not to see race at all. In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. said "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Especially since Americans lost MLK, Bobby Kennedy, and others to that movement, we have fought to make MLK's dream come true. Naturally, Americans want to believe we are getting somewhere.

Then there are the voting trends, which imply racism and its receeding over generations. Younger voters favored Obama by a large margin, while older voters favored his white opponent. If the conventional wisdom is right, that younger voters are essentially less racist, then one conclusion we would draw: children are nurtured or conditioned with respect to race. People who grew up in a time when racism was more accepted are more likely to be racist. People who grow up in a time when racism is not accepted are less likely to be racist.

It is a hugely popular political theory, and it makes a good story, but is there science to back it up, or otherwise? You can find plenty of statements from respected scientists drawing the conclusion, such as Alexandre Mas and Enrico Moretti of UC Berkeley, in their serious work from December 2008, "Racial Bias in the 2008 Presidential Election," where they concluded plainly that "Older people tend to be less tolerant of minorities." For historical context we can refer to The Gallup Poll from relevant years, asking what percentage of Americans would not vote for a black candidate for president. As shared by Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google, "In 1958 53% of Americans (and 58% of white Americans) would not vote for a black candidate for president. By 1989 that figure was down to 19%, and by 2007 to 5%." The conventional wisdom seems to hold; however, we are lacking information per age group. It may be the case that racism in America is declining across all age groups over time. Older voters may have had a different reason, such as social security policy, for giving Obama less support as an age group. Without further data, we could only say for sure that racism, when it comes to considering a candidate for president, is well on the way out.

If we want to push racism all the way out, we need to ask how we have gotten this far against it. To know even that, though, we should return to the question of nature v. nurture. Racism exists, but are we born with it? As recently as 2004, Steve Connor, Science Editor of The Independent in the UK, published that "Racism and xenophobia could have a deep-seated biological basis dating from our Stone Age past, explaining why people naturally tend to shun outsiders." He was essentially passing on the work of Mark Pagel of Reading University and Ruth Mace of University College London in the aptly titled journal "Nature." Their speculation, however, is pure game theory and hypothesis -- unsubstantiated assumptions from which logic is followed to provide a possible explanation for their observations.

Their "observations" of the way people interacted thousands of years ago are subjective, and their hypothesis is rooted in assumption, not evidence. I read their 2004 ideas as a convenient way for everyone to effectively say "racism is not my fault, I was born this way." If they had actual evidence to support their story that would be well worth considering, but it reads like just one possible story to fit known facts -- facts as flimsy as "prior to the rise of agriculture in about 8,000 BC, human societies lived in close-knit tribes of hunter-gatherers." Yes, but that hardly requires xenophobia, and is nothing Nature or The Independent should have reported as a scientific discovery.

Thankfully a few cooler heads were available in a 2005 issue of Psychological Science, where Princeton University researchers Mary Wheeler and Susan Fiske reported that racial fears are not a part of our born nature, instead they are socialized. Their work was pragmatically titled "Controlling Racial Prejudice," and they were more to the point in their methodology, too. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure activity in the amygdala -- the part of the brain which kicks in a fear response called "rapid vigilance." An important finding: "Fiske said amygdala and stereotype activation only happened when 'thinking about the faces categorically and superficially'." Some of the same research and more was wrestled down in an excellent, longer form article in 2007, "Prejudice, discrimination: is racism inborn?" by the indefatigable blogger Improbulus.

It means that while we naturally fear someone we have grouped or categorized as foreign, if we perceive that person as an individual instead of as a generic foreigner, then with that one change in perception we experience no natural racism. Without nurture, perhaps nature leading to racism would prevail, but we have it within us to defeat racism. Doing so is a matter of education.

That certainly sounds promising. Education primarily targets the young, though, and we don't want to wait. There is more recent, good news from ScienceDaily: "Television Shows Can Affect Racial Judgments," a study led by Dana Mastro of the University of Arizona, and "Negative Perception Of Blacks Rises With More News Watching, Studies Say," thank you in those cases to University of Illinois professor Travis Dixon. “The fact is we still largely live in a segregated society, so our perceptions of other groups largely come through the media,” Dixon said. I call this good news because it means that intentionally produced, anti-racist media can have an impact. It means that lobbying the press to be fair in their coverage is not only to settle a theoretical score. If the press is more fair, we can expect it to improve race relations, and we can expect if the press is aware of this research then they will be motivated even further to be more fair. Science has helped us sharpen our tools. What was a hopeful, moral plea cannot be denied its practicality, and whether we appeal to media corporations or to government agency oversight, fairness in portrayal of ethnicity and race can be confidently codified as media policy. For more, see "Intersection of Race and Telecomm Policy: Andrew Jay Schwartzman" from The Benton Foundation, 2008.

This brings us back again to the election of Barack Obama, by taking us back first to the most popular TV show in America for five years in a row, during the 1980s and 1990s: "The Cosby Show." Cosby and his TV wife were black professionals whose charming family was much better off financially than the average black family in America. During the show's run and ever since in syndication, debate has continued over the show's impact on race relations. For a time, a consensus had started to emerge that "The Cosby Show" was actually bad for race relations, pondered in The Seattle Times as the show drew to a close, in 1992. The concern was that Cosby was not doing enough to confront and inform on race related issues, economic or otherwise.

In the 1990s, Bill Cosby spoke up to defend their work: "A white person listens to my act and he laughs and he thinks, 'Yeah, that's the way I see it too.' Okay. He's white. I'm Negro. And we both see things the same way. That must mean that we are alike. Right? So I figure this way I'm doing as much for good race relations as the next guy" -- that's from Ronald Smith's 1997 update of his book, "Cosby: The Life of a Comedy Legend."

Then in 2008, twenty years after The Cosby Show had dominated American television, Cosby was suddenly being credited with helping the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. Tim Arango at The New York Times went so far as to publish just days after the election: "Before Obama, There Was Bill Cosby" in which he confidently connected the dots. It could not have been that simple, as Brent Cunningham at Columbia Journalism Review explained, and as debated more publicly at The Huffington Post. The idea was compelling enough, though, that even Bill Cosby himself acknowledged there could be something to it.

We can take comfort knowing that science says so, too -- Bill Cosby and TV kin probably did help to make Barack Obama's election possible. Every public service announcement, every After School Special, every non-profit running a campaign to fight racism and every newscast covering a non-profit doing so, they all likely helped to reach people and break down barriers. Making more media, particularly when we encourage people to judge not by grouping people but by their individual characters, can help change attitudes even more for the better.

We might come away from this accounting with the idea that much has been accomplished, that America has come far, but what of the racism remaining in America and in the world? All over the world -- in Mexico, across all of Asia, even within the black community in America -- prejudice and discrimination based on the relative lightness or darkness of a person's skin remains for many a crippling social issue. From outside India for example, most Europeans or Americans might think that all Indians are the same race, so racism should not be a problem among Indians.

To the contrary though, inside India, the obsession with having lighter skin is a lifelong burden for anyone who is born with relatively darker skin. This is as basically unfair, and as damaging to human society as racism. If you are not from India, then to appreciate the problem view two short video advertisements played often on Indian television. See this, marketing a popular cosmetic product called "Fair and Lovely" to women, and this too, marketing the same to men.

The general advertising campaign, the cosmetics industry, and the entire problem of skin lightness or darkness -- many simply call it racism -- has begun to cause due uproar both outside and inside India. Heather Timmons at The New York Times covered the general advertising trend in 2007, and Emily Wax at The Washington Post expanded on the story in 2008. Anushka Asthana of The Observer, Guardian News and Media in the UK pulled fewer punches later in 2008, in a more passionate article "We all know it's wrong to judge by skin colour ... so why do we do it?"

We have seen in our limited review of racism and cruelty that compassion is natural, but it must be nurtured. People's natural reactions can lead them away from compassion, or they can be conditioned to be less compassionate, unless we assert compassion. Neither nature nor nurture are all the roots of racism, nor is either all of the solution. A CompassionRise reader, Lawrence Perkins recently commented: "The world has gotten confused. We hear Tolerance over and over. Yet it only leads to apathy... Compassion on the other hand, compels us to intervene ... to make a difference." Thank you Lawrence, your comment helped motivate my follow-through with today's in depth article.

Today's CompassionRise has covered a lot of ground because the Dalai Lama's wisdom pointed us down a long, broad, and important road, the way of our human nature and what our cultures make of it, a road we all walk together. From my third grade year of school, weaving in and out of American history, popular culture, scientific and media analysis, and then generalizing to acknowledge the global, human issue of racism -- the messages derived of the Dalai Lama's words were too important to be given less attention. This is compassion. It is not enough to sympathize, to empathize, to simply hope or to wish or to pray for a better world. We need to continue searching, observing and measuring, defining and pushing. 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. Compassion is not a passive ethic or belief, it is a call and a means to make this a better world.

January 04, 2009

Resolving to Help Others

Pat Whatley Showell, President and CEO of Families First

Every year, millions of people make resolutions to improve their lives. The "I Am The Solution" initiative began with one simple question: What would happen if people also made one resolution to improve the lives of others?

 -- Pat Whatley Showell, President and CEO of Families First

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

According to clinical psychologist Mark Crawford from Atlanta, the most popular new year's resolutions "include improving health and fitness by exercising more and eating less, getting financial affairs in order by paying down debt or saving money, getting organized, spending more time with family members, and quitting a bad habit such as smoking," as reported recently by CNN Medical Correspondent, Judy Fortin. In these first days of 2009, a promising movement is attracting many to do something more compassionate: resolve to help others. Started by another Atlanta resident, Pat Whatley Showell, the initiative is called I Am The Solution.

I had already resolved to start CompassionRise before learning about I Am The Solution, but I have since registered my resolution with I Am The Solution to take advantage of their community building, tracking, and other resources. Although CompassionRise is less direct than most resolutions to help others in need, I intend for this daily blog about compassion to play a supporting, productive role in more specific and direct actions. My wife and I are regular volunteers and we give donations and professional work pro bono to many organizations. I wanted my I Am The Solution resolution to be something new for 2009.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to make and share your own resolution to help others, at I Am The Solution. As they put it, "Individual Resolutions Make BIG Solutions Possible." Share and track your resolution, and pick up an awesome "iamthesolution." t-shirt. The community is still picking up steam -- we have had international media attention including an article by Lilla Zuill at Reuters distributed by The Washington Post, MSNBC.com, and many others.

I Am The Solution was started by Families First, an Atlanta-based, non-profit family service agency addressing community needs including homelessness, abandoned and abused children, teen pregnancy, and domestic violence. Families First has been serving metro Atlanta communities for 117 years. If you are near Atlanta please consider volunteering with Families First.

Families First collaborated with Red Tusk Studios, also of Atlanta, to design and develop both their main site and I Am The Solution. As Pat Showell of Families First said: "Our goal is to drive more and more people to our web site for information gathering, volunteering and online giving." For more Families First news, see the Stay Connected section of their site.

p.s. Pat Showell also publishes a well considered and motivating blog: Pat's Monday Memo

January 03, 2009

Sustainability of the Self

The Dalai Lama

Human beings are of such a nature that they should have not only material facilities but spiritual sustenance as well. Without spiritual sustenance, it is difficult to get and maintain peace of mind.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

Definition, history, and context: these are the keys to unlocking wisdom. The most profound and touching words are vague but implicit. It is not enough to hear or read them. They can say many things and require interpretation. Because they intrigue and beg questions, wise words become an experience and mean something to you.

The Dalai Lama speaks and writes wisely -- pointing you on your way, causing you to wonder. For sustenance and peace of mind, or what I call the "sustainability of the self," he asserts that we need spirituality.

Many define spirituality as religion, but some religious people lack peace of mind, and some nonreligious people have peace of mind, granted that measuring happiness or the like is relative and largely indefinite. Rather than conclude the Dalai Lama is wrong about our need for spiritual sustenance, with a broader perspective on the meaning of his words there is wisdom to help any person -- of any faith or no faith at all.

Simply put, his message calls us to search. What he has called "spiritual" can be religious, but may not be. His only requirement for spiritual sustenance is that it should not be material; his only sure statement is that for our peace of mind, being and possessing what is material is not enough. The Dalai Lama does not tell us what else we must get, or have, or be, but by leaving this open to interpretation he suggests that at least, we must seek something more.

Definition, history, context ... Princeton defines "spiritual" as "apparitional: resembling or characteristic of a phantom; 'a ghostly face at the window'." This may seem different than what the Dalai Lama meant, but I read "spiritual" in that context as a positive word for the unknown. Spirituality would be our mindful investigation of what we naturally fear. Science would be the greatest example of productive, universal, human spirituality; it is a definition I, for one, like a lot.

The publicly editable Wiktionary entry, affiliated with a Wikipedia article, defines spirituality as "Concern for that which is unseen and intangible, as opposed to physical or mundane." That isn't a ghost in a window, but it does, also point toward the unknown. Some say religion and its description of the supernatural are our ancient, pre-scientific way of doing most of what modern science and technology now do -- explain the seemingly inexplicable and solve what was once intractable, like feeding the hungry and healing the sick. What science and technology seem to be missing is an invitation, a bridge to social and personal meaning, wise words, or if you will -- spirituality.

CompassionRise is my search and you are welcome to it, I would rather it be our search. The wisdom shared or at least sought here, daily, is necessarily informed by my experience and I intend for it to influence my experience, too. You can carry wisdom like a lens, recall it like a rule of thumb, or walk with it like a friend, to find your way.

Tony Wilkinson of Cambridge and London put spirituality for the nonreligious in a context on which anyone should be able to agree: happiness. In his book "The Lost Art of Being Happy, Spirituality for Sceptics" Wilkinson offers a practical approach leading to the same, personal destination the Dalai Lama points: "peace of mind."

As this is a daily I must end it with many thoughts outstanding on spirituality. The Dalai Lama will not be my only guide though he is a model for the sort of help I seek. He is a dear friend to humanity who has bridged gaps between religions, between religion and science, and between cultures as old as history. Others in that mold may include Carl Sagan, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and Hu Shih or 胡適. As this is personal, too I am no less awed and formed by my wife, my parents and family, my friends, my Catholic school mentors and godless, Cornell University professors. If as I suppose, the spiritual is the unknown and spirituality is our want of knowing, then there is entirely too much to say about it at once, except: by one definition, this is both the means and the end.

January 02, 2009

We Are the Makers

The Dalai Lama

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

 

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

If you are religious or spiritual, and you believe in a higher power, then do not confuse being a believer with being powerless. Not only is happiness something we have the power to create, but experience has proven that happiness is something only we have the power to create. Do not pray to be given happiness -- that's not how happiness works.

If you are often unhappy, then perhaps you are caught in the trap of waiting. Do not wait for better circumstances or for an achievement in life before you allow yourself to feel happy. Being happy will not stop you from working hard toward your goals. To the contrary, a positive attitude is proven to increase productivity. Motivation and productivity do not require suffering. This is your one life. Be happy now, while still working toward your goals.

Most importantly, being happy can only come from within you. External circumstances such as more material success do not give you more happiness. Many of the most powerful and wealthy people are also famously unhappy. 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.

January 01, 2009

Old and New

The Dalai Lama

Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend -- or a meaningful day.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

The name "Tenzin" in Tibetan is like the name "Chris" in English -- it is a familiar name given to many Tibetans, both men and women. The 14th Dalai Lama's personal name is Tenzin Gyatso. If you think of the Dalai Lama as "Tenzin" then you are on the right track to understanding his personality, and his message today.

If you get the chance to meet the Dalai Lama personally, you will feel right away that he is like a good friend. If you are nervous or tense, he will tell a joke and give you his big, trademark smile. Tenzin's smile tells you that his concern for you is genuine. Above all he is kind and treats you as an equal.

This is the way old friends treat each other -- with respect, familiarity, and with the same concern for each other as for themselves. Today the Dalai Lama refers to meeting new friends in the new days ahead. When you meet new friends, treat them like your old friends. Reach out to them and discuss something of importance. Ask them about their concerns and listen carefully. When you meet new friends like they are old friends, they will become meaningful friends.

The Dalai Lama also refers to old friends and old days passing. They pass away naturally, and we might sometimes try too hard to stop them. Sometimes the only way to renew is to let go of the old -- especially an old grudge, or an old regret.

A lot of modern society centers on dream or wish fulfillment, but it is also okay to let old dreams pass away. It is not important whether our dreams have stayed the same our whole lives. What the Dalai Lama said about friends and days is also true about dreams: "The important thing is to make it meaningful."

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