Whenever I’m in a big city, I love to watch the people. Today in Sydney I’ve taken time out to just sit and connect with the humanity of the place. It smacks you in the face, the heaving, seething, weaving masses of people. And yet I marvel at the way that, despite all these individuals, the group generally functions pretty well. How do they do it?
Of course, there are certain exceptions. But it really is incredible how this large number of people are able to live their lives in such a cooperative way. I notice how they move about:
People collect at a street corner while the traffic flows past them. Then the traffic stops, and the people make their way across the road. The crowd seems to thin for a few moments, and then the traffic moves again and another group of people start to collect on the street corner.
It may seem simple, or even mundane, and yet there is an elegance to the way people exist together. It’s like a dance. Everyone is cooperating with one another.
I also notice, beyond this simple cooperation, that there is something more.
Just in front of me, a little boy trips over. His mother bends down and picks him up, soothing him and gently rubbing his sore knee. Then over my shoulder I hear a man sitting in the cafe behind me call out, “My compliments to the chef, those eggs were sublime!” And then the proverbial happens: A young woman approaches an older woman heavily ladened with grocery bags, and helps her across the street.
These acts of comfort, gratitude and kindness are happening all the time, all around us, every day. It reminds me that what really makes society work is people’s natural and innate adherence to the “golden rule”. Treat others as we would wish them to treat us.
Every religion of the world, every spiritual tradition, every philosophical or ethical approach is imbedded with the principle of compassion. In fact, compassion is adaptive. As Charles Darwin said in The Descent of Man, “communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.” And it is no less true for us now than when our ancient ancestors were cooperating with one another, looking after one another, to survive the harsh realities of the world in which they found themselves.
Compassion is hard-wired within us. People practice compassion everyday. But perhaps there is also more we can do. Perhaps Sydney could do more? Or the other capital cities around Australia? Or even our smaller communities? Well, the good news is that there is a worldwide movement that is trying to achieve just that.
The Charter for Compassion
In 2008, Karen Armstrong received the TED prize for a talk she presented titled “Compassion: An urgent global imperative.” From there she used the prize money to found the Charter for Compassion. The Charter’s vision is “A world where everyone is committed to living by the principle of compassion.” Since its inception, the Charter has developed a worldwide network of hundreds of cities, towns and countries who have declared their commitment to cultivate compassion within their communities.
In 2010, the Australian Federal Parliament was one of the first governments in the world to sign the Charter, but it is now time to be doing more. Anyone and everyone can sign up to the Charter, as individuals or organisations. Let’s start to form compassionate communities, compassionate cities, compassionate universities and compassionate organisations throughout Australia. Let’s join the movement, and take action. If you are interested, go to www.charterforcompassion.org and learn about starting a Compassionate Community Initiative.
And in the meantime, here’s a little task for you. See if you can notice, as you carry out your day, examples of beautiful acts of cooperation, comfort, gratitude, appreciation, forgiveness, kindness or compassion from one human being to another. It might be something you do, or something you observe from a family member, a friend, a colleague or even a stranger. Let’s celebrate the compassion that is all around us everyday, and have that inspire us to bring even more compassion to the world in which we live.
To read more about Dr Steindl and the team of Clinical Psychologists at Psychology Consultants visit our website www.psychologyconsultants.com.au