Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong

A process for developing personal compassion to engage in compassionate community for a more compassionate world

Welcome to Compassionate Sunday. We’re working through Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong, one step per month.

If you’d like to share a post about what you learned about compassion (The First Step), what you’re seeing in your world (The Second Step), self-compassion (The Third Step), empathy (The Fourth Step), mindfulness (The Fifth Step), action (The Sixth Step), how little we know (The Seventh Step), how to speak to one another (The Eighth Step), concern for everybody (The Ninth Step), knowledge (The Tenth Step), or recognition (The Eleventh Step) use the link list below. Or join the discussion in the comments or on Facebook.

Book: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Publication date: 2014
Pages: 336

Source: Hardcover from library

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy received the most votes in the multi-ballot selection process we use to pick books for our Diversity Book Club

Summary: Just Mercy tells the story of attorney Bryan Stevenson’s work with prisoners on death-row (not all of them guilty), children jailed for life (not all of them for violent crimes), and the unlawful treatment of imprisoned women and the mentally ill. The book is autobiography, but often the focus is on the clients rather than on the lawyer who is telling their stories. Many of those stories are heart-wrenching, but somehow the book manages to be inspiring. Our justice system can clearly be more just while also being more merciful — people like Bryan Stevenson are leading the way.

Thoughts: Our book club discussed Just Mercy last week. One of our responses was to marvel at how many good things Bryan Stevenson has accomplished in his life and wonder why we haven’t done as much in ours.

That made me think of something that I just read from The Eleventh Step in Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. The Eleventh Step is Recognition.

The first story that Armstrong tells is about Christina Noble, a woman who experienced a childhood alone and homeless in Ireland. A powerful dream led her to Vietnam where she ended up becoming a “crusader for the street children” and built a children’s center  with donations from all over the world. She recognized herself in the face of a girl in Vietnam. And, then she found ways “to work practically to alleviate the pain of others.”

Reading about Christina Noble and Bryan Stevenson is both inspiring and discouraging. I want to act in that way but I feel much less bold and much too fearful. It feels too late in life. I have too many responsibilities. I don’t know how. I don’t know what cost it takes to devote one’s life to others in such a way.

Armstrong has a bit of reassurance on that last point.

So look at your world anew, and do not leave this step until you have chosen your mission. There is a need that you–and only you–can fulfill. Do not imagine that you are doomed to a life of grim austerity or that your involvement in suffering will drain your life of fun. In fact, you may find that alleviating the distress of others makes you a good deal happier. p. 169

She then goes on to quote Christina Noble about all the things she enjoys — singing in clubs, drinking and dancing, and riding a motorcycle.

How do you respond to stories of people doing great good in the world?


Just Mercy #BookReview #CompassionateSunday — 8 Comments

  1. One of my favorite inspiring stories is Mountains Beyond Mountains, the story of Dr. Paul Farmer in Haiti. I am happy he is working in the world.

    • That’s a good attitude. When I’m feeling guilty, usually gratitude is the quickest path to a better place. I’m grateful for the work of Bryan Stevenson and Christina Noble.

  2. I loved this book when I read it last year with Doing Dewey’s Nonfiction book club. I’m glad you enjoyed it too. I’ll second Deb’s comment about Mountains Beyond Mountains. That was an excellent one as well.

    • Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life is a strategy to change our lives. I’ve been pursuing it for almost a year with a little participation from some friends.

      Our book club in Kirkwood specializes in books on race in America, like Just Mercy. It has changed lives over the eight years that we’ve been together, but not in a particularly strategic way — more organic from learning new things.

      And, yeah, I confused things by putting both of those in one post just because they touched me in a similar place this week.

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