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Karen Armstrong argues for practical compassion

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Karen Armstrong: I think the media has a huge role to play – and has to take quite a responsibility for some of the more divisive aspects in our culture. I’ve just written a piece in the Globe and Mail about Islamaphobia in Canada, and the hostile comments that came in were ugly and disturbing – sort of fascist-style comments. Very often, the media has portrayed certain sectors of the community through endless reporting on terrorism, ignoring the wider picture. So, there’s a real challenge here to turn that around.

Storytelling is fine as long as you can encourage people to act on the stories. I don’t want this charter, for example, to degenerate into a sort of club where people exchange compassionate and inspiring stories, because there’s just too much work to be done. If we want to create a viable, peaceful world, we’ve got to integrate compassion into the gritty realities of 21st century life.

Let’s use our stories to encourage listening to one another and to hear not just the good news, but also the pain that lies at the back of a lot of people’s stories and histories. Pain is something that’s common to human life. When we ignore it, we aren’t engaging in the whole reality, and the pain begins to fester. We need to encourage full storytelling – unless people also talk about the bad things that happen, this is just going to be some superficial feel-good exercise.

Bruce: What are some of the more recent practical applications of the charter that have been most inspiring to you?

Armstrong: Pakistan is taking a leadership role in integrating the charter into civic life. This a country right on the edge of the main conflicts that could fill our world – the whole world could implode because of what happens in Pakistan. It’s got Afghanistan and Iran next door, it’s a nuclear power, and it’s had conflict with India since its inception. This is a really explosive situation.

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