Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Take compassion to the stars and beyond

The appearance of each new photo on Facebook of the “Jayne Hat of the Week” is a cue for viewers to send a description of their starship to the proprietor of “Being a Geek.”

“Jayne” is a character on the science-fiction series “Firefly.” His mother made him a red, yellow and orange hat with earflaps and people submit photos depicting themselves wearing hats modeled after his.

While the purpose of the contest was to further viewers’ awareness of “Firefly,” I was intrigued by the contest’s emphasis upon the name of the ship, including the reason for its selection and its history.

I took as inspiration the Constitution-class starship of “Star Trek: The Original Series,” of which the most well-known is N.C.C. 1701, the U.S.S. Enterprise herself — but more significant than the class of ship or my choice of science-fiction universe, were the values that I hope to see entrenched in our future society.

The N.C.C. 1707, the U.S.S. Armstrong, is named for Karen Armstrong, progenitor in the early 21st Century of the Charter for Compassion.

Armstrong, a religious scholar, is the author of “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011).

In “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,” Armstrong relates how she asked the nonprofit group Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) to help her create a Charter for Compassion that would be written by leading thinkers from a variety of faiths.

TED presents a $100,000 award to people to help them make a better world. The Charter for Compassion was the result of Armstrong receiving this award:

“Thousands of people from all over the world contributed to a draft charter on a multilingual website in Hebrew, Arabic, Urdu, Spanish, and English; their comments were presented to the Council of Conscience, a group of notable individuals from six faith traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism) who met in Switzerland in February 2009 to compose the final version.”

The charter was officially launched Nov. 12, 2009.

A Lake County Charter for Compassion was adopted on March 22 by the Lake County Board of Supervisors. It echos the language in the original charter: that “The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves.”

In creating my starship, I envisioned a future that would view this as a pivotal moment in history when Humanity finally put an end to poverty and war and took compassion to the stars and beyond.

Armstrong’s book presents  a 12-step program for cultivating and expanding compassion. Its emphasis upon the Golden Rule makes it a valuable resource for nearly every religious faith and even for people who cultivate compassion for a strictly secular benefit of treating other people as they wish to be treated themselves.

“Twelve Steps to A Compassionate Life” is available in print and in audio format through the Lake County Library, which includes a copy that is shelved at the Redbud Library. Look for the book under 177.7 on the non-fiction shelves or place a request through the library catalog, accessible online or at any branch of the Lake, Mendocino or Sonoma County libraries.

For more information about the international charter, visit http://charterforcompassion.org/site/. For more information about the Lake County charter, visit http://lakecountycompassion.blogspot.com/.

Published Aug. 2, 2011 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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