Karen Armstrong's 2008 TED Prize
Story by Rita Hibbard. Given one wish and $100,000, Karen Armstrong is changing the world. In February of 2008, Armstrong, a respected scholar who studies the connective tissues between world religions, was awarded the TED prize for her groundbreaking work. With that funding and the support of the TED organization, to grant one wish, Armstrong chose to focus on compassion.
Specifically, she asked TED to help her create, launch and propagate a “Charter for Compassion, crafted by a group of leading inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and based on the fundamental principles of universal justice and respect."
In November of 2009, the Charter for Compassion was born. It grew from contributions of more than 150,000 people from 180 countries, and was crafted into a succinct, 312-word pledge that allows room for all faiths by a panel of leading religious scholars. More than 85,000 people have pledged to uphold it.
Armstrong attempts to make the journey to a compassionate life accessible in her book “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.” In the preface, she writes that, “All faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality and that it brings us into relation with the transcendence we call God, Brahman, Nirvana, or Dao. Each has formulated its own version of what is sometimes called the Golden Rule, ‘Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you,’ or in its positive form, ‘Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.’ Further, they all insist that you cannot confine your benevolence to your own group; you must have concern for everybody — even your enemies.”
Yet every religion has a history of intolerance.
“I want people to hear the compassionate voice of religion,” she says in a short video produced by Jesse Dylan.“I want to change the conversation and bring compassion to the forefront of people’s attention.”
Her book breaks the journey to a compassionate life into steps, encouraging readers to extend compassion to themselves and to others, to learn, reflect and act in specific ways.
Armstrong believes that change happens one person at a time. She points to world leaders like Ghandi and Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. "One sees what one person can do, the tremendous impact (of) a decision to seek reconciliation, not revenge, as Mandela chose,” she said in an interview on NPR.
It is not easy, she admits. In the same interview, she calls the work “the struggle of a lifetime,” for herself as well as those around her. “Like everybody, I feel I've suffered, I feel I've been damaged, I meditate unpleasantly on my enemies and feel this corrosive sense of anger,” she said, admitting she has at times a sharp tongue.
Along with the personal struggle comes the global struggle.