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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