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), recognition (The Eleventh Step), or loving your enemies (The Twelfth Step) use the link list below. Or join the discussion in the comments or on Facebook.

The Twelfth and final step of Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong is also the toughest: Love Your Enemies.

Armstrong starts her argument with a surprising premise — loving your enemies is a strategic act. She argues, like the book This is an Uprising that I read earlier this year, that the disarming approach of being kinder than you need to be is effective at preventing violent conflict and at limiting its impact when it can’t be prevented.

The case begins with Mozi and Laozi, Chinese philosophers who wrote during the Warring States period, between 475 and 221 BCE. I didn’t realize that the Daodejing is actually a “manual of statecraft,” not a self-help spiritual text. In it, Laozi advises a ruler that resistance is the natural response to a tyrant. So armed conflict must be brought to bear only when all other paths have been attempted, and, even then, only to the extent required to end the hostilities.

Bring it to a conclusion, but do not boast; bring it to a conclusion, but do not brag; bring it to a conclusion, but do not be arrogant; bring it to a conclusion, but only where there is not choice; bring it to a conclusion, but do not intimidate. Daodejing 30, in D.C. Lau, trans., Tao Te Ching.

My exposure to the philosophy of loving one’s enemy came through the words of Jesus:

But I say this to you who are listening: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly. Luke 6:27, 28.

Armstrong points out that we know exactly what happens when Jesus’ words aren’t taken as gospel.

We have witnessed the result of hard-line policies inspired by a righteousness that can see only the worst in the enemy. We have seen the danger of ruthless retaliation that drives people to despair, ignores their needs, and refuses to take their aspirations seriously. We have become aware that when people feel that they have nothing to lose, they resort to hopeless, self-destructive measures. p. 181.

These are not ancient philosophies. They survived into modern times to be preached by Ghandi, King, and the Dalai Lama.

We recall the Dalai Lama’s suggestion that the concept of war has become outdated. Warfare is an integral part of human history, but it no longer makes sense in our global society. If we destroy our neighbors or ignore their interests, this will eventually rebound hideously back on ourselves. p. 178

Well, there’s a depressing thought to start the New Year, especially at a time when so much of the world seems bent on destroying its neighbors and acting as if the interests of others and of ourselves aren’t intimately entwined.

What I’ve learned this year is that when I get depressed about the state of compassion in the world, the cure is to focus on the state of compassion in myself. That’s what the rest of the Twelfth Step chapter is about, so I’ll post about that next week.

In the meantime, I’ll focus on compassion for you, my reader. And, for my family and friends. And, I’ll stretch a bit here, and focus on compassion for my neighbors some of whom voted in ways that seem counter to all of our interests, but they must have thought otherwise. I wish each one of us prosperity and enlightenment in 2017.


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