Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Can Compassion Be Cool?

"[T]hat quality of reverence, that is really the gateway through which we can begin to rediscover our capacity to do good."
-- Interview with Van Jones, President, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

"Only by establishing peace in yourself can you be helpful in contributing to peace . . . being peace is the basis for doing peace, making peace."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh quoted in Great Peacemakers.
I recently received a review copy of Great Peacemakers by husband and wife team, Ken Beller and Heather Chase. The book is a collection of 20 short profiles of well known, and not so well known peacemakers who the authors divided into five categories: choosing nonviolence, living peace, honoring diversity, valuing all life, and caring for the planet. Some of the peacemakers profiled include Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Thich Nhat Hanh, Riane Eisler, Jane Goodall, Rachel Carson, Wangari Maathai, David Suzuki and The Dalai Lama. Although it won the 2007 OMNI PeaceWriting Award for Writing for Young People, Great Peacemakers' short profiles make for inspiring morning or bedtime reading for adults as well.

The three ideas that stuck out for me among the peacemakers' profiles and quotes were the importance of having compassion, getting things done through collaboration, and recognizing that all people need love. We live in a time when talking about things like love, peace and compassion are considered to be either religious (and consequently offensive to the non-religious), or New Age (oh, Dennis Kucinich, why did you have to mention the UFOs?). As Van Jones, the President of the Ella Baker for Human Rights said when I interviewed him last year, "[T]he idea of protection and nurturance and cooperation and solidarity, and really believing that there is something precious about everything and everyone, that is not too fashionable right now."

Perhaps we're at a time in history, when we need to feel comfortable talking about things like love, compassion and interconnectedness in our daily lives, not because we are religious or "woo-woo," but because we are human. As Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, said in her 2006 Commencement address to the University of Santa Clara Law School, "[I]f the shapers of U.S. foreign policy looked out for the human consequences of their decisions, the world and the United States would be far better off."

Celebrities like Bono, Angelina Jolie and George Clooney have made it hip to "do good." Perhaps the next thing is to make it cool to talk about kindness and compassion.

Related links: A Network for Peace and Human Rights
The Peace Alliance: A Campaign to Establish a US Department of Peace


  1. Interesting idea about compassion, but I still think there's a lot of people who could volunteer, who may think it's cool that the celebs do it but don't do it themselves. Perhaps talking about peace and compassion will put people in a better state of mind and make them more likely to want to volunteer

  2. Hi Casey, You are right, there is lot of work to be done before service becomes an integral component of America's culture. I guess lately I've been feeling like not only do we need to change our actions whether that is making time to volunteer or recycling more or buying less, but that there is also a mind/heart shift that needs to happen as well for real change to begin.

  3. Hi, Britt...

    I realize it's been a long time, but thank you for reviewing Great Peacemakers on your blog.

    We wanted to share some current news we thought you might want to pass along to your readers.

    To celebrate the International Day of Peace on September 21, LTS Press is offering FREE digital copies of Great Peacemakers: True Stories from Around the World for a limited time.

    Just visit Amazon at from September 21 - 23 to download a free copy.

    Thank you again for featuring our book.


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