Choosing Not To Change

One of the more valuable lessons I’ve learned in my life is that leaving things as they are is a choice as important and powerful as changing them. This never would have occurred to me five years ago, but it’s central to my understanding of who I am today and how this thing called life actually works.

If you’re like me — especially the me of five years ago — it seems obvious that changing things is a choice. You’re actively choosing that things aren’t acceptable as they are, realizing that the fastest way to change them is for you to get involved, and making a concerted effort to alter the situation you found unacceptable.

And it’s true, leaving things as they are isn’t as active a choice. It’s the default choice. When you choose not to change you just need to keep going down the path that you’ve previously consented to. But the passive ease of the choice doesn’t in any way change the fact that it is a choice. And one that will have significant ramifications for the future.

I worked in the same job for five years. It wasn’t a good job, though it was hardly the worst. It didn’t teach me much, but there were opportunities for me to learn and grow in it. I was hardly doing something that someone who’d known me during the course of my education would have guessed I’d have landed in, but I had it. And keeping it was easier than changing. So I kept showing up and getting paid.

If a constellation of factors hadn’t really pushed me to think more broadly about what I was doing in that job, I would probably still have it. And I’d probably have continued to have it for the next thirty years. (It’s not certain that the job would be there for thirty years, but it’s likely I could have had it as long as it existed.) Keeping that job was a choice I was making, every bit as much as leaving was a choice. For five years I chose not to change rather than do the scary thing of working out a plan for leaving. It was easy and comfortable to stay.

There are always valid reasons to choose not to change: if you’re satisfied, if you’re untroubled, if you’re getting all you need from the current order of things, then you have many good reasons to choose to stay. Stay in the job, stay with the fitness level, stay with the diet, stay with the romantic partner, stay with the circle of friends, stay with the family, stay in the town, stay in the country. These are all sane choices for us to make, completely defensible and worthy of being made.

But I think it’s utterly vital for us to realize that they are all choices. Choices we’re making for huge constellations of reasons, far deeper and more complex than this piece can cover. But choices. Real, meaningful, impactful choices. Staying with the way things are, just as much as changing it, is a choice. Realizing this takes a bit of a leap, but it’s immensely important.

(fork in the road by tunruh)


Life, Uncertainty, Courage

One of the harder-to-deny truths about life is that it’ll always contain uncertainty. We can, seeking solace from this fact, strive to minimize the number of things we don’t know. In doing so, we hope it allows us to act with greater confidence about the kind of outcomes we can expect. And indeed, the more you know about the path you’re going to take the likelier you are to be able to move confidently and quickly while you progress down it.

But spend too much time studying the possible ways in which your journey can possibly unfold and you’ll forget to start it. Quite simply, if you strive too hard to minimize your uncertainties you’ll never do anything. But, indeed, start with too much haste — jaunting out with absolutely no knowledge — and you can quick-step to disaster.

So we’re mostly stuck in this large grey area. We can neither fully know the way the future will unfold as we move into it, nor stop time from progressing and moving us into that future, prepared or not. This grey area is where we live.

Life itself consists of this simple process: moving forward with uncertainty. Maybe your choice will lead to an unassailable legacy and the masses of the future seeing you as the smartest person who ever lived. And maybe it’ll lead you to a mess that you’ll spend the next ten years digging yourself out of, never to recover completely. It can be maddening if your realize this possibility. Debilitating even.

But there’s no changing it. Life moves on, whether we act as cowards or as heroes. We can’t change its direction, no matter how much we’d like to. Time will continue the steady march of its unfolding, dragging us all along at the same steady pace, none of us really knowing what’ll come next.

When I get deep down this thought path, I recall a quote I put on this site some six years ago:

“What must we do? ‘Be strong and of a good courage.’ Act for the best, hope for the best, and take what comes.”

Simply put, this is some of the best advice that you could hope to get about how to deal with uncertainty. And yet it’s also incredibly banal. It’s so obvious and known and non-actionable that it can be extremely frustrating if you let it.

One of the few things I’m certain of is that we cannot remove uncertainty from life. We can’t make the future by thousands of thoughts about the past we’ve come from or the future it would be great to go to. We must take some actions, out here in this big scary world, if we are to influence the future as it unfolds.

This means moving forward in the face of uncertainty. Doing your best to do what is best is courage. It’s strength. It’s that thing we admire so much in those that inspire us by their achievements. And they faced the same uncertain future that we do.

It is their courage, despite their uncertainty, that we admire. Courage makes us sit up and think that someone was doing it right. It is courage, more than nearly anything else, that is remembered. A confident and wise choice pursued doggedly is the thing history most greedily records.


Prioritizing the Truly Important

Whenever I start to think seriously about the obstacles to accomplishing goals and doing cool things, I always come back to a deceptively simple phrase I heard from Merlin Mann: “First, care.” (His essay of that name is super short and worthy of your time. Even if you’ve read it before, it’s worth reading again.)

Awareness is the first step toward caring. But it is only the first step.

What makes the “First, care.” direction so deceptively simple is this: of course you care. Of course I care about my weight, every time I look in the mirror I think “Do not want!” I find my weight unattractive. Of course I care about the mess that my office is, everyday I say to myself “Someone should really clean this place up.”

Caring is a complex thing. Awareness is the first step toward caring. “I know I weigh too much.” “I know my house is a mess.” But it is only the first step. We frequently miss that fact.

As intelligent people, we’re perfectly capable (perhaps even too capable) of having thoughts we don’t do anything about. We’re perfectly capable of thinking that things matter to us that we don’t actually care about. We think we can make everything a priority — it’s all so important — that we miss the reality that we’re systematically focusing on nothing.

Put very frankly, without a bullet-proof organization system people are capable of actively making progress in a few large, over-arching areas of life at once. Your priorities might sanely be a list like: diet, exercise, and career. You can swap these into and out of focus over days and weeks, and see concrete change that’ll impress you and keep you interested.

But you cannot sustain a list of priorities that looks like “buy a new car, build a stronger relationship with my brother, exercise more, meditate regularly, organize the office, find the love of my life, figure out if I want to go back to school, pursue new job opportunities, and repaint the guest bedroom.” There’s too much there for you to sanely keep in your head, never mind do. And by holding your failures in one of these areas against yourself, you can easily make progress even harder by convincing yourself of your worthlessness and impotence. That you’re just not the kind of person who can lose weight, or stay organized.

You can do small things about each item in that long list of “priorities”, but unless you reduced the list’s length, the cognitive weight of each of them pressing on you will be your most substantial progress toward accomplishing them.

Reduce and clarify: pick the few things that you’re going to change about your life in the next year, and plan to systematically focus on them. It’s from there that you can start to do the work of building the life you want.

trust carved into wall

Decreasing Fear by Increasing Trust

The thing about fear is that you feel it. Every part of your body is animated when you’re afraid. There’s a sound reason for this: you’re probably scared because you’re in danger. You’re probably in danger because something bigger, stronger, or more powerful than you is threatening. And in the face of this threat you’d probably benefit from being ready to fight or flee. So fear is there for you: tensing your muscles, putting everything on high alert.

And then you walk up and ask the girl, “Wanna go out on Friday?”

The evolutionary usefulness of fear is pretty easy to understand. The absurdity of most of the places it manifests in the modern world is also pretty easy to understand. But one of the core things I know is that the fact that such a gap exists doesn’t mean that we are able to get past the irrationality we know exists in the current situation.

When you trust that things will work out, whether in your life, or your afterlife, or the world that you leave behind, it’s much easier for you to face down fear.

One of the harder things about rational handling of fear is that we don’t really have a good handle on what to do with fear. It’s a really dominant biological sensation that gets in our way and makes it hard to do a lot of things. But it’s also so dominant that the best answer we typically have is to “power through”. And there’s clearly some usefulness in that “feel the fear and do it anyway” school. The intellectual gap is best handled in the present moment by not letting the biological response determine your action.

But I think there’s a more powerful, if slower, way to cope with fear: trust. This can feel a little out there, but I really do think there’s nothing more powerful as an antidote to fear than having faith and trust in something. How many Christian martyrs do you count, made strong by their faith God? How many activists do we admire who went on fearlessly because of their trust in the worthiness and purity of their cause?

When you trust that things will work out, whether in your life, or your afterlife, or the world that you leave behind, it’s much easier for you to face down fear. To know that your cause is worthy, that your actions are just, that you’re on the right side of the truth. With these on your side you can do things that astonish the rest of us, sitting worried about how we’ll pay the bills and where we’ll ever find the love we desire (but don’t necessarily feel we deserve).

Cultivating trust, though, isn’t easy. It’s a scary thing, to take the leap of faith that while this girl will turn down your request for drinks she won’t chastise you for asking. It’s scary to believe that while your boss doesn’t necessarily think you’re ready for a promotion just yet, she really does want to do what’s best for you. It’s sometimes hard to have the strength to believe that threatening-seeming actions of people may be their best attempt to deal with their fear. That your nonviolent resistance will convince the indifferent world of your humanity and right to be treated fairly.

This faith isn’t free, and it has its hazards. But if you’re looking to diminish the fear you feel in your life, starting to cultivate a trust in the things that make you afraid is almost certainly a great place to start. Can’t do that? Trust in something bigger than the thing you’re scared of and don’t yet have the ability to trust.

Think through the fear, feel into into it, make an effort to feel that trust. Offer that thing you’re scared of a bit of trust that it’s not as bad as you fear. Progress is likely to be slow: we make indiscernible amounts of progress in each attempt. But small changes add up, and  eventually you may be able to do the things that scare you without that slightest race of your heart.

picture of fear graffito

Moving Beyond the Fear Mindset

In a contemplative mood last night, I made a few tweets about fear:

Most things we don’t accomplish in life have one root cause: fear. We fear failure, success, humiliation, poverty, etc so much we don’t try.

Most cruelty is a reaction to fear. Few harsh actions come from a place that isn’t afraid of the vulnerability of openness.

Exposing yourself to the world completely: your fears, your dreams, your accomplishments, your abilities requires incomprehensible strength.

People depend completely on each other but fear each other so much they get very little done.

So to put it mildly, fear was on my mind. The story I’d tell about why is as follows: I’ve made a number of quite positive changes in my life in the last few years—lost 70 pounds, got promoted, started a business, began exercising regularly, changed jobs—and I was contemplating what the biggest reason for them was. What I came to for each and every one was that I’d gotten past the fear and insecurity that had previously stopped me.

And as I saw Alain de Botton tweet soon after all of my tweets, part of the reason for the changes was that I’d started to be more afraid of not doing anything than of making the changes I have.

In her research Dweck has found two basic ways of relating to the problems that we face as we move about the world.

But there was another, more fundamental reason for the shift in my life and it was based on Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. Dweck’s spent most of her career studying why some people are more resilient and successful than others. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her phrase it this way, but in my reading her answer comes down to fear.

In her research Dweck has found two basic ways of relating to the problems that we face as we move about the world. The “fixed mindset” grows out of the belief that our abilities to accomplish things are essentially capped: when we fail to do something it is because we’re just not capable of doing that kind of thing. This contrasts with the “growth mindset”, which takes failure to do a complex math problem, for example, in stride as a part of the learning process. In the growth mindset, my current inability to do this problem means I can now learn how to do it, not—as the “fixed mindset” might have it—that I’m an idiot who’s bad at math.

Personally, I’ve lived most of my life with the “fixed mindset”—from early on I was tagged as a “gifted” (read: smart) child, which tends to lead in Dweck model to the fixed mindset. Praising someone for being smart, she points out, gives them a sense of possessing a fixed thing of worth—their intelligence—that they then will tend to protect jealously. If you want to praise a child for something they’ve done, focus on effort and learning, she encourages.

When my self-appraisal is strongly tied to my ability to project intelligence and mastery, I will avoid situations in which there is a risk I’ll look stupid or inept.

And learning about and understanding the foolishness of the “fixed mindset” way of relating to the problems you face has made such a profound difference in my life I’d find it hard to understate. I’ve become much more willing to fail and much less wedded in my mind to the value of my intelligence. (Beyond reading Dweck’s book, it’s worth mentioning that part of the shift was a result of the world making it increasingly clear to me that idle intelligence has essentially no value.)

The fear that drives the “fixed mindset” is a primal one. When my self-appraisal is strongly tied to my ability to project intelligence and mastery, I will avoid situations in which there is a risk I’ll look stupid or inept. The way this manifested, for me, was an increasing specialization in things of very little worth to the world at which I was relatively skilled. Trivia games were a favorite of mine; business—a giant area about which I knew nearly nothing—was not.

As an ego defense mechanism I’d essentially come to the conclusion that the things I wasn’t good at were things I’d never be good at. I hunkered down and really built a tightly-bound identity around what I perceived to be my strengths. I was an overweight, inactive, introverted person who knew a lot and read a lot and was pretty much set, thank you very much. I’m stated this a bit like it was something I rationally and thoughtfully decided to do. It really progressed unconsciously, through many small decisions. I had just slowly chosen for myself that kind of life.

Seeing the whole constellation of consequences that came out of this simple dichotomy of mindsets Dweck presented, I was a bit humbled and embarrassed. So much of who I was could be traced back to this simple fear that I’d look dumb. Realizing a truth like that about yourself is the first step to change. It allows you to begin to see, intercept, and change the thoughts and fears that you define yourself by.

To get grandiose, the “breakthrough” I’ve made that’s changed my life in uncountable small ways is to realize that my fears—of looking stupid, of saying the wrong things, of asking for help—were the single biggest obstacle between who I was and who I really wanted to be. It’s not been easy to move through them—and they do still get in my way—but I’ve made tremendous progress by understanding, naming, and working with the fears I feel about the things I know I really should be doing.

(Photo from wilderdom on Flickr)


Presence not Presents

My war on gift-giving earns just about as much criticism as it does confusion, so I think it makes sense to lay the argument out here. To start: there is a strong economic case against gift giving. It’s based on things like gift-givers routinely paying more for their present than the receiver values it at, that a large percentage of gift cards–the latest way out of the gift giving puzzle–go unredeemed and are inherently inefficient even when they are, that we (in the rich world) frequently want for nothing and so are given things we definitionally do not want, and the fact that people get little enjoyment or economic benefit out of either giving or recieving gifts and yet spend a great deal of time and money doing it. All those arguments are valid, rational, and widely greeted with a “yeah, well, but economics sucks.” So I’ll set that whole area aside, if you’re interested I’d recommend the reasonably short, accessible, and available Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays.

To start, I think it’s worth considering the practical symbolism of gift-giving. Like the pre-Medieval tribute, gift-giving is essentially an economic way by which we demonstrate if not good will, then at least a promise not to harm. That description is obviously somewhat inflammatory, but I find it undeniable that there’s a thread of commonality between this archaic demonstration of commitment and this rarely-questioned tradition we still practice today.

Practically speaking, the positive case for gift giving is usually that we’re showing our care for each other by buying the other things they certainly want but wouldn’t indulge so much as to purchase. Setting aside the reality that this is rarely how gift-exchanges shake out, even this idealization seems odd. It posits that the strongest needs that we can satisfy for each other are urges for physical objects that others must help us to realize. Again, accepting that to be true is, to my mind, rather depressing.

We humans have many needs. We need things like shelter, food, water, sanitation, and comfort. We also have deep and seldom-explored psychological needs for belonging, purpose, love, success, acceptance, etc. Gifts almost never satisfy the first set of needs–we’re buying chocolates for each other not because we think the other hungry, but because we figure at least they can eat it–and rarely offer more than a momentary relief from our psychological longings.

When we spend time on other people with the goal of securing a secret physical object to later hand them, we’re excluding them from our time as though the physical object we find will somehow make that time directed toward them (yet without them) worthwhile. Maybe we think that we’re not excluding them from our time, but rather borrowing time from elsewhere to devote to gift giving. Again, even if that were true, it would be a strange and irrationally indirect way to show we care.

There are few greater gifts we can give to one another than our genuine and complete presence with them. This is not an easy gift to give–we have minds built for avoiding being hunted down by predators, not for focused caring attention for another person–but it is the gift that best fulfills our so-frequently-missed psychological needs. Giving someone your genuine presence almost inherently gives them a sense of belonging, love, and acceptance. Those things give them easier access to a sense of purpose and success. Even if you’re not good at demonstrating presence to others, there’s no way for you to get better than spending your time doing it intentionally with a willingness to improve.

It’s time, not money (even proxied through physical goods), that we need to give each other. No gift means as much as a few hours spent genuinely encountering each other with acceptance and care. We can’t give presence without taking the time out of our lives to give to others; the same can not be said for physical presents. Money is unevenly distributed and so a problematic medium through which to demonstrate our caring. But there is nothing more even than time. The fifteen minutes we promise to regularly spend really present with each other represents an equal loss and possibility of gain for both of us, and that seems like the best possible kind of gift-exchange to me.


“Work is More Fun than Fun”

This quotation, whose owner I’ve seen cited repeatedly as Noel Coward, strikes me as largely true. Not completely, always, and unequivocally, but certainly for the right type of work it can be in a way we tend to underestimate.

When your wife, friend, or boss commands you “to go have some fun,” they obviously don’t mean spend time entering data into spreadsheets, even that’s your favorite thing in the whole world.

Before you go telling me that I clearly don’t know fun, I should be clear about that part too. It’s tautologically true that nothing can be more fun than fun, but it’s undeniable that we mean a rather specific subset of things when we typically say “fun.” When your wife, friend, or boss commands you “to go have some fun,” they obviously don’t mean spend time entering data into spreadsheets, even that’s your favorite thing in the whole world. Things that the culture at large considers fun are generally hedonic pleasures that fall into the general categories of social activities and light amusements. TV is fun, video games are fun, watching and playing sports is fun, “partying” is fun, gossiping is fun, (social) eating is fun.

Programming, writing, editing, compiling, even cooking, these things are all generally considered to be outside the category of fun. But they can be. These tasks, which we generally categorize as “work” can be deeply immensely satisfying in a way that almost no activity considered above in the category “fun” are. When you think your work matters, or even if you just regard it as a worthy thing to spend time on, the sense of satisfaction that’s available in accomplishing your work in a way you regard as “well” is a supreme pleasure.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s seminal work on “flow” is essentially about this very point. The Wikipedia article on the topic has this to say about flow:

It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.

It is not “work” per se, as the generalized category, that constitutes the type that is “more fun than fun”. Your dull and disappointing job which neither challenges nor can challenge you is probably never going to give you the sense of egoless immersion and accomplishment that really leaves one feeling deeply satisfied and contented with the activity they have just completed. But it’s also undeniable that because work gives you access to the achievement of things far beyond yourself, the possibility for a sense of lasting accomplishment is far greater than even the most successful and flowing “fun” activity.

I don’t believe that work-is-fun flow state is a state itself worthy of pursuit, but I fervently believe that it can be a useful tool in getting done work you care about. That is, unlike deep meditative awareness, I don’t regard flow states as inherently beneficial outside of themselves, but I think they clearly constitute a useful tool if you’re pursuing ends you know to be good and valuable. (See my thoughts on Flow Traps, for why I’m pressing so hard on that.)

The reason to share and explain this rather popular quotation is simply this: too frequently people just ignore the very real possibility it explains. We go around living our lives for the weekends, the whistle, the bell, the time when we’re free to have fun. But doing that is itself to confine yourself to prison during your working hours. You don’t need to be doing activities we define as “fun” to enjoy the way you’re spending your time. If you do your work well, achieve a degree of both mastery and learning, you can make every moment of your life, even the dullest ones, “more fun than fun.”


Art as Art

I was a alerted to a new facet of my reality after taking a breather while reading my old review or the documentary Born into Brothels. And it’s essentially this: I have little or no interest in a piece of art as a piece of art. I think this gets to the very core of my dislike of fiction, my apathy toward almost all visual art,  my lukewarm response to poetry, and my antipathy toward the mockumentary genre. (Kenny, if you’re curious, is the one exception that proves the rule on that last one. That one worked its way into my heart.)

I have a deep and abiding interest in real factual human stories. If there’s one thing that’ll dependably make me weep or shaky with ecstaty, it’s a well-done presentation of a real person encountering real things. What I noticed in reading my Born into Brothels review was that I said almost nothing about how the documentary works as piece of art. The mechanics of its making, the composition of the photography, the pacing of the narrative, none of those were relevant to me. What I concerned myself with was the twin moral imperatives of a documentarian to document and of a person who can help to do so.

It’s possible to read my inability to appreciate art as art as a moral failing. Similar to my conversation aversion, it’s doubtless led to consternation among those who know me and don’t understand my problem. And I’m sure that there’s something to be said for the ability to appreciate art as art.

Since I keep saying it, I should probably be clear about what I mean by “art as art.” Seeing art as art is staring up at the Sistine Chapel and being interested only in the brushstrokes that made it, the picture it presents, and how that strikes you on an emotional level. When I look up at the Sistine Chapel I’ll likely experience some sense of awe (I got one using this approximate), but my mind quickly races to grapple with issues like the reason it came to exist, what its existence means, and what it means that we hold it in such reverence. The technique doesn’t interest me, the intricacies of its creation strike me as mere oddities, and the realities of the visuals strike me as rather banal. In short, I can’t appreciate it for merely what it is.

Life interests me. Fascinates even. But the creations of people who aren’t so fascinated by it to be held in such awe that they want only to document it have always struck me as odd. I just feel like I’m watching deluded people try to entertain other deluded people.

Deluded may be too strong. Sleeping or blind are more accurately what I mean. People driven to create art are usually those who feel the need to make something beautiful or pure or simple. They aim mostly to distill, simplify, and make understandable. I see the irony of doing this, but it feels appropriate to communicate this better with some lyrics from Connor Oberst. The Bright Eyes song Bowl of Oranges ends:

…if the world could remain within a frame
Like a painting on a wall
Then I think we’d see the beauty then
We’d stand staring in awe
At our still lives posed
Like a bowl of oranges
Like a story told
By the fault lines and the soil

It’s not that I don’t think people creating things with the goal of helping others to see the beauty, majesty, hurt, tenderness, etc that underly the weave and weft of the cloth of life is useless or silly. It’s certainly not. If I write for any reason it’s to learn how to convey knowledge of those things better than I currently can.

But what is true is that what they produce is much less interesting to me than what they meant by it. I’d rather consider the artist than the work as it sits before me. Perhaps this is actually how most people respond to art, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say it, so I did.


OPW: “Testimony” by Rebecca Baggett

I want to tell you that the world
is still beautiful.
I tell you that despite
children raped on city streets,
shot down in school rooms,
despite the slow poisons seeping
from old and hidden sins
into our air, soil, water,
despite the thinning film
that encloses our aching world.
Despite my own terror and despair.

I want you to know that spring
is no small thing, that
the tender grasses curling
like a baby’s fine hairs around
your fingers are a recurring
miracle. I want to tell you
that the river rocks shine
like God, that the crisp
voices of the orange and gold
October leaves are laughing at death,

I want to remind you to look
beneath the grass, to note
the fragile hieroglyphs
of ant, snail, beetle. I want
you to understand that you
are no more and no less necessary
than the brown recluse, the ruby-
throated hummingbird, the humpback
whale, the profligate mimosa.
I want to say, like Neruda,
that I am waiting for
“a great and common tenderness”,
that I still believe
we are capable of attention,
that anyone who notices the world
must want to save it.

(via Mary Grace Orr)


OPW: Charter for Compassion

I’ve recently decided that I’m gonna play it a little looser around here, which means I can bring back an old feature: Other People’s Words.

The document doesn’t list an author, but it’s pretty deeply related to everything I’ve been trying to say when I’ve used the Life category in the last year. Built from Karen Armstrong’s wish at TED in 2008, I just learned about this document a few months ago when someone posted on reddit that you’d never believe what video was at the URL (that site has changed since then, but I swear this was there).

Anyway, I can’t find a word misplaced in this document (though the formatting is creative), nor one I don’t agree with. The Charter for Compassion states:

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.