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Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life


Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life Cover



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.

Product Details

Armstrong, Karen
Anchor Books
Religion Comparative-General
Philosophy | Ethics
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
8 x 5.17 x 0.67 in 0.52 lb

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Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life Used Trade Paper
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Product details 240 pages Anchor Books - English 9780307742889 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , In this important and thought-provoking work, Karen Armstrong—one of the most original thinkers on the role of religion in the modern world—provides an impassioned and practical guide to helping us make the world a more compassionate place.


The twelve steps she suggests begin with “Learn About Compassion,” and close with “Love Your Enemies.” In between, she takes up self-love, mindfulness, suffering, sympathetic joy, the limits of our knowledge of others, and “concern for everybody.” She shares concrete methods to help us cultivate and expand our capacity for compassion, and provides a reading list to encourage us to “hear one another’s narratives.” Armstrong teaches us that becoming a compassionate human being is a lifelong project and a journey filled with rewards.

The First Step: Learn About Compassion

The Second Step: Look at Your Own World

The Third Step: Compassion for Yourself

The Fourth Step: Empathy

The Fifth Step: Mindfulness

The Sixth Step: Action

The Seventh Step: How Little We Know

The Eighth Step: How Should We Speak to One Another?

The Ninth Step: Concern for Everybody

The Tenth Step: Knowledge

The Eleventh Step: Recognition

The Twelfth Step: Love Your Enemies

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