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More Dangerous Compassion

September 24, 2010

I’m running around today with errands and work, following a long night of community dialogue/police brutality meetings yesterday. But quickly wanted to share this Huffington Post article: a summary of a weekend dialogue “exploring both the personal and the transpersonal challenges and possibilities of this question: How Can We Bring About a Compassionate Society?”

It’s another example, I think, of the specific problems I talked about in Dangers of Compassion.

Mystified mechanism:

As the hard inner work of contemplative practice transforms an individual, the ethical and altruistic qualities developed in such practices spill out into life with each and every action and interaction.

Root vs. Radical:

The path to a compassionate society arises from the intentions and actions of individuals within that society.

Social Change Relativism:

One small act of kindness and generosity … one act of tenderness … one act of selflessness … each of these moments makes a difference. No act is too small. Strung together, each kind gesture becomes a pearl that makes a beautiful strand of loving kindness with which to encircle self and other, close family, friends, coworkers, community, strangers and world.

Again, I sympathize with the idea that a lot of this compassion stuff is subtle, and can’t be ‘legislated.’ In a way, it really does depend on individual commitment and work. No one can cultivate compassion for us; we need to do it for ourselves.

But as I’ve emphasized, individuals do not exist in material and political vacuums. Pumping up our compassion while neglecting to develop our analysis and political program leaves us lopsided and spinning in circles. Like pushing a cart with one giant wheel and one tiny one.

Also want to note that I think that the Upaya Zen Center, where this “compassionate society” program took place, does beautiful work and includes wonderful people who clearly ‘get it,’ like Maia Duerr of Jizo Chronicles. So it’s not to say that the work of building a compassionate society is useless. (The two times I’ve seen Roshi Joan Halifax speak in person it made me want to run off and meditate 12 hours a day for three years or something — she’s that inspiring.)

Y’all know where I stand. Awakening takes devotion, and I respect that enormously. Bridging awakening with the desire to build a better society is where it’s at. And in order to do that, we have to step up our game on articulating precisely what kind of material society we want, and how we plan to get there.

Anyway, something to chew on for the weekend. Take care, everybody — see you Monday.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 25, 2010 6:15 pm

    Peter Maurin, who worked with Dorothy Day to found the Catholic Worker movement often said that we need to make a world where it’s easier for people to be good, to be loving, to be compassionate. That idea pushes me all the time — cultivating my own spirituality and compassion, but also trying to take down the walls that make it so hard for others to do the same. I hope that makes sense?

    Anyway, as always, thanks for sharing your insights!

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