The Emerging Culture of Compassion
By Graham Peebles *
March 22, 2021
Given the level of divisive conditioning, with its emphasis on competition and selfishness, that we are all exposed to, it’s a wonder that kindness and compassion exist at all. But exist they do, and since the global calamity that is Covid-19 hit our streets, a widespread feeling of brotherhood has surfaced, triggering acts of everyday altruism in communities all over the world.
Huge numbers of people are volunteering with health services, local support groups, and food-banks; delivering medication, offering fitness classes, checking on vulnerable neighbors and more. Times of emergency and catastrophe routinely trigger such acts of kindness, calling forth the best in us. Superficial differences are cast aside in light of the immediate need and we see ourselves in the other; selfishness and ambition are negated, for a moment at least, and compassion made manifest.
Not only have individuals and civil society responded magnificently during the pandemic, governments, in varying degrees, have acted to ease the collective pain and mitigate the economic impact. Now, as countries begin to slowly emerge from the shadow of the disease, the opportunity to build on this awakened duty of care presents itself, and in so doing, to inculcate, what the historian Peter Hennessy describes as “one of the most creative and productive patches of our history.”
In order to give shape to this, or any other post-Covid vision, and there are many ‘re-thinking’ dreams floating around, systemic change and reform of governing institutions is urgently required. Such pragmatic changes are effects, flowing from a shift or awakening in attitudes – firstly within society, then among governments, creaking bodies that are habitually reactive; the popular response to Covid suggests that such an evolution is under way. A development that moves the centre of focus from the individual to the group; away from purely selfish achievement, often at the expense of other people and the environment, to action that enriches society, is environmentally responsible and focuses on the well-being of others.
As the Teacher, Maitreya, has said (message no.54 of 140, given on 28/11/1978): “The problems of mankind are real but solvable. The solution lies within your grasp. Take your brother’s need as the measure for your action and solve the problems of the world. There is no other course.” This realignment of attention from self-centered action to addressing the needs of ‘your brother’, appears on the face of it to be a major one. Certainly such an approach runs contrary to the corrosive ‘survival of the fittest’ message, which has characterized political and socio-economic propaganda for generations, but, it is an idea that sits in harmony with the natural inclinations of most people in the world.
Everyone has the seed of goodness within them, the nature of which is love. In addition to awareness of non-separation, a key quality of ‘the good’ is the impulse towards community service of some kind; service manifested as acts of social and environmental responsibility e.g., both of which have been growing over the last forty years or so, intensifying and expanding year on year. The unprecedented global protest movement, high levels of political engagement and environmental activism are manifest examples of ‘the good’, or love, in action, and during Covid, the widespread levels of community service.
Service, which on the face of it at least, demands some level of self-sacrifice (time and regular commitment e.g.) is, by its very nature highly decentralizing – shifting the focus away from the individual – focusing as it does on the needs of another, on ‘your brother’s need’. It is a response to the recognition that, as one group, or family, we are all responsible for one another, for society and the natural world. We instinctively know this to be true, but for generations false values and imprisoning ideologies of all kinds, have been drummed into the minds of everyone from birth, polluting human nature, distorting action, conditioning people into competition, selfishness and fear; creating divided insecure societies. Change the environment by removing the factors that feed such tendencies, encourage a culture of compassion and see the good spontaneously erupt.
* Graham Peebles is a British freelance writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and India.
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