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Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Lifeby Karen Armstrong
Reading Group Guide
This guide is designed to help you organize, promote, and facilitate your own reading group.
In 2008, Karen Armstrong won the 2008 TED Prize and with it her “wish to change the world”. Karen sought to create a Charter for Compassion. Thousands of people contributed to the process and the Charter was unveiled around the world in November 2009 (www.charterforcompassion.org). One year later, the Charter has inspired community-based acts of compassion all over the world. From Seattle to Karachi, Houston to Amsterdam, in schools, houses of worship, city governments, and among individuals everywhere, the message of the Charter is transforming lives.
Reading Groups are contributing to this transformation. Well over 400 people have downloaded this guide, so far. Thanks to volunteers throughout the world, we have groups in at least eight countries, including Canada, England, Ireland, New Zealand, Qatar, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States, with more being added regularly.
Our societies are informed by the words we use and the actions we take as individuals, in our institutions, and in our communities. Expanding our understanding of compassion and discussing it with others are important steps toward activating the Golden Rule around the world. You are key to making this happen!
Reading groups will use the book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life to seed discussions that produce the following results:
• Foster a greater understanding of compassion.
• Identify ways to regularly practice compassion in personal and public ways.
• Affirm and act on the Charter for Compassion at charterforcompassion.org.
The Importance of Listening
Simply put, there is nothing, nothing in the world that can take the place of one person intentionally listening or speaking to another.
—Jacob Needleman, Philosopher and Author
Listening is important to practicing compassion. At the first meeting, take a few minutes to discuss the value of deeply listening to each other (see suggestions below). During this discussion you might share experiences when you and your group members really felt heard or when you or your members listened to someone who needed to be heard.
In addition to listening to individuals, it’s important to listen to what is emerging from the discussion. The group will not only be sharing ideas, insights, and stories, but they will also be giving form to an intangible essence: compassion. Short periods of silent reflection, especially following periods of intense discussion, give this essence a place in the conversation.
• Listen with an open mind and heart.
• Even when we feel impatient to speak, we will allow others to speak without interruption.
• Accept that the speaker’s feelings are valid, no matter what we think. We will refrain from “correcting” the speaker’s feelings.
• Listen with no agenda other than to be a sounding board for someone who needs to speak.
• Imagine that we are speaking and listening to ourselves.
• Listen without trying to solve or fix a problem unless feedback or advice is sought.
A Word from Karen Armstrong
The work of the Charter for Compassion and this book is born from Karen Armstrong’s commitment to provide practical and actionable ideas that can indeed transform our world. Armstrong offers these words of advice to reading groups:
I suggest that at the end of each session, each person resolves to introduce one regular practice into his or her life. This resolution should, for example, be “realistic.” It has to be something that you can feasibly include in your daily routine; it should be challenging, but not so demanding that you give it up after a few days; it is no good saying, for example, “I am never going to say another unkind word to anybody in my life ever again,” because this just isn’t going to happen. It should be something really concrete: “I am going to go out of my way to perform one act of kindness each day to somebody (make a list of candidates!) who really annoys me.”
The resolution should also be practical. It shouldn’t be something vague, such as “I am going to open my heart to the whole world.” That is meaningless unless it becomes a concrete reality in your life.
Be creative and inventive; there is no need to stick slavishly to these suggestions: think of ways in which your actions can become a dynamic and positive force for change, not just within yourself but in the world around you. Make each resolution a regular part of your life, and by the end of the course you will have twelve new habits that should be effecting a transformation within yourself and your immediate environment.
Discussion Questions and Actions
The following are suggested discussion questions and actions to use in your reading group. Most are taken directly from Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. Select and use whatever questions and actions fit your style and/or your group.
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