“Compassion is the New Radicalism of Our Age”

I have struggled with how to write about and respond to the current political climate in our country and in our world today.  On the one hand, I believe that public intellectuals, spiritual leaders, and artists (actually, all citizens) have a responsibility to be part of a public voice of resistance to egregious lies and attacks against human decency (to say nothing of human rights).  On the other hand, I don’t want to play into a kind of Trump-bashing attacks that feed my own ego and paradoxically play into the media spotlight on this atrocious leader (and others).

But when I saw this beautiful, simple statement on the wall at Rise coffee shop recently, it seemed to me that perhaps the simple act of committing to a contemplative practice and prayer-life that fosters compassion – in thought, in word, and in deeds – becomes a radical act in and of itself.  It becomes a spiritual, moral, human act of resistance.  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel coined the phrase “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity,” and that sums up what we need right now.

Of course, Trump alone is not responsible for all the hatred and violence in the world.  At the same time, however, he is the leader of the “free world” (to the extent that means anything anymore), and the actions of leaders have powerful consequences.  So it’s not really about Trump and his administration and supporters, but it’s rather about paying attention to and then mindfully and intentionally responding to the movements of energy in the world.  The choice not to give into hatred – even of those with whom we vehemently disagree politically, religiously, socially, etc. – must done with intention and conviction.

Several political commentators and historians have noted that after a steady rise in democratic forms of government across the globe (since the end of WWII), we are now moving into a decline.  President Trump has publicly praised Valdimir Putin, whose political opponents have shown up mysteriously dead all over the globe, and Rodrigo Duterte, who advocates for his soldiers to rape women and has executed a multitude of “drug lords” without any due process or judicial review (a process most would consider murder, plain and simple).  Meanwhile, two brave citizens were killed and a third injured in Portland after intervening to stop a raving lunatic from berating Muslim women.  All the while, the new white-nationalist “alt-right” leaders like Richard Spencer and others, continue to believe that just because they speak calmly and “reasonably” and they cut their hair cleanly and wear nice suits, they are somehow less racist, bigoted, or violent than their peers in white hoods.  And of course, we now live in a self-contained world of “alternative facts.”  These are the alarming evils of our time.

The sad reality is that not a single strong political leader has emerged who is speaking up for moderation, democracy, human rights, and a return to what makes America (and any good community) great again.  (To be fair, there are voices out there, but none of them have the range and scope needed to truly erode this larger movement – at least not yet).  It is perhaps ironic that as the West has become increasingly secular, the two public figures who are most influential in speaking out about compassion as the new radicalism are both religious and spiritual leaders – I’m thinking of Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama.

Spend a few moments just taking in the faces of these two men.  They are radiating with joy!

I want to imagine a new marketing campaign.  Remember those old WWII-era posters of Uncle Sam that say, “I want you!”?  Let’s put these two guys – and anybody else who radiates compassionate joy – onto posters all over the world with that same tag line.  (Any graphic design artists out there?  ‘I want you’ to work on this!).

Join the revolution!  Start small, do whatever you need to do to remain in touch with your compassion.  Build communities of support and resistance.  This is the radicalism of our time.


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