Global Read: The Compassionate Life

Global Read: The Compassionate Life


Below is the transcript from a call on June 18, 2016 at 9 a.m. PDT, the first in a series of the Global Read program (details here). The Global Read is an opportunity for individuals and organizations who support making compassionate a luminous force in our world to join with thinkers and activists who are also authors in an open discussion about how to transform the world. If you'd like to listen to the audio of the call, click here.


Hello and Welcome

Introduction to the Global Read

Welcome to the Charter for Compassion’s Global Read Book Club. Today we have as our guest Marc Barasch and we are going to be discussing his book The Compassionate Life: Walking the Path to Kindness. The Charter for Compassion is, as you may know, the outgrowth of a wish by Karen Armstrong to create and propagate a Charter that can encompass the need for people to transform our societies from structures based on selfishness and competition to generosity and compassion. There are over 350 communities worldwide who have already embarked on plans to take concrete steps to make compassion the center of common life. It’s very appropriate that Marc Ian Barasch’s book is our first in our new book club series.

Here’s our plan today: we’ll first invite Marc to make some initial comments, then we’ll open the floor to comments and questions. I’ve also got a few questions from you who posted them before today’s call.

Marc Ian Barasch is a polymath. He’s written books, written for and produced film and TV projects, founded organizations and initiated projects. He’s also a musician. Marc is the founder/CEO of the Green World Campaign (, a nonprofit supporting reforestation, eco-agriculture, and education in the developing world. He conceived and executive produced "Text TREE" on Times Square.

The book we are talking about today, The Compassionate Life (formerly, Field Notes on the Compassionate Life), covers issues that are also explored the documentary by Tom Shadyac "I Am," in which Marc is a featured contributor. Marc is a former editor of the award-winning New Age Journal and at Psychology Today. He has been a PEN award finalist. Most importantly, Marc is a great explainer of the way things came to be the way they are and how we can be a part of a transformation of our understanding of our place and role in the natural world. We are honored to have Marc here to discuss The Compassionate Life: Walking the Path of Kindness.

I’m going to let Marc make opening comments, then I’d love to open the floor for your questions and comments. If you’d like to follow along, go to, enter the email and pin that you registered with, and you’ll see now a part of the cover of Marc’s book.

Marc: It is an extraordinary honor to be kicking off this book club. I have a long history with the compassion cities movement. When I was on book tour with this book in 2005 I was asked to address the group of civic leaders that were put together to talk about the social implications of this work. I suggested what would it mean to make compassionate principles the center of civic institutional life? Imagine a system of justice focused on restorative justice and a parks department that focused on the ecological whole. 

And a friend of mine, Jon Ramer, started the Compassionate Action Network. That eventually went to Seattle declaring itself a city of compassion and the compassion charter becoming a hub of all of this. I think a lot of what compassionate action is, is doing all that you can to be kind, loving, empathic, and thinking of the whole in every interaction and moment. It may sound very over-pious and overshooting as a life goal but I think the people on this call are self-selected people. I want to look at this call as an opportunity for people who are self-selected compassionistas, people who are inclined toward altruism, to really talk with each other, strengthen each other, inquire into what it means to live the compassionate life not just episodically but to weave it into every aspect of life. To look at the implications of other-centeredness and, beyond that, to see that self and other are enclosed in some much greater system whose outlines we still only dimly sense.

I think there are really mysteries to compassion. What happens when you open your heart, what force does that exert? Teilhard de Chardin said it was a force like electricity or light and when we harness that force—I think the quote was—then the world will have discovered fire for the second time. I think we’re in a zone unknown, what happens when a lot of people make a decision that they are part of this greater whole, that they are beholden to each other, that their place is the other’s place as well. We create a different sphere of awareness, which Chardin called the “noosphere.” I think we’re just in the midst of a great noospheric experiment. It involves us becoming conscious of ourselves as a planet. This will be something that certainly will be part of the history of this era. It might have been in so many points in evolution survival of the fittest, but now its survival of the kindest.

Reed: Why don’t you explore that a little bit. In your book you go in some length into Darwin’s idea of the fittest being narrowed into being survival of the most selfish.

Marc: Yes, this was a process really of Darwin’s interpreters. Darwin used that phrase very infrequently. In fact he mentions love as an organizing principal 95 times in “The Ascent of Man, but that is sort of left out. A lot of his interpreters had a more dour view of humanity. Sort of fast-forwarding to the near present and Richard Dawkins’ notion of a selfish gene that caught on—and frankly was quite a useful concept. It certainly became a meme that justified selfish society—a “Trumpian order”-- where this was considered to be the basic unit of organization of not just our biology but of our psyche. This was an enormous mistake. Going backwards to the origins of evolutionary theory, contemporaries of Darwin. Darwin’s contemporary Kropotkin, observing populations in the Steppes suggested it was not survival of the fittest, it was survival of ecology. He looked at the co-evolution of all of these creatures in that rather arid ecology and realized they were interdependent.

Recently there has been a revival in science of group selection theory, an idea that Darwin once put forward. It’s not just the gene or the individual but the group it selects. A group that contains some altruists is going to out-compete a group that doesn’t. There have been a lot of ways that evolutionary biologists have tried to look at the phenomenon of altruism. Looking at altruism, which is undeniable, some observers have said this is kin-selected altruism – you will save your kin more than you will a non-kin, because you are preserving your genes. And that, in fact, has been observed.

There are also ideas of return-benefit altruism – someone does you a favor so you do one back. Or you do something pre-emptively or proactively for someone else so that they will do something else for you later. 

You will have in groups individuals who will sacrifice themselves for the good of the group. If you had a group that was made completely of altruists, they probably would not be able to pass their genes on because they would all be eaten. There seems to be some sort of mix of phenotypes or maybe in human terms neurotypes – but different types make up a group so that altruism factors into the success of that group.
There are a lot of corporations now that are working on compassion training. I have friends who are working with organizations on that, such as SalesForce, for example. What happens if an organization is trained in compassion? What happens not just the individuals but the organizations as a whole? I think we are in the midst of a lot of social experiments.

When I was writing my book I noted that compassion was mostly talked about in the context of religion. I think just in the ten years since the book came out it’s been extraordinary to see the trend of how compassion and forgiveness can be augmented and taught and brought into the social sphere so that they become more normative. I think that’s kind of a new development.

Reed: What is fit, is a combination of both altruism and competition (or groupthink , group support). It’s a complex web that comes together to make a species, group of individuals or ecosystem. It is a distinction making world that we live in, and we have (at least until the very near present) separated ourselves from nature. We don’t think those rules apply to us.

Marc: You are talking about “units of survival.” We see from unicellular creatures up to our complex civilization, its bigger and bigger aggregations. The successor aggregation contains the former one. Now the aggregation is the planet, the biosphere, humans in the biosphere. That’s what’s trying to survive. That is, in a sense, the super-organism. And if it’s not “survival or the kindest” that super-organism is not going to make it... certainly not in the current form. I think we’re in an evolutionary bottleneck, where it’s kind of change or die. I’m not trying to be apocalyptic here, rather I think there will be tremendous hardship if we don’t collectively adopt kindness as an operating principle and create an empathetic civilization and a regenerative society. I think all of this is underway. The people on this phone call are all cells in that body. There are many examples that don’t show up in the news about the process of emergence.

There’s an Einstein quote: “A human being is part of the whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ —a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

A prophetic statement from someone who may have understood reality and the universe better than anyone in history.

Reed: Magdalena asked in advance, though she is on this call. She says, “Thank you so much for your wise and timely book. Please could you say more about emotional entanglement. Thoughts on how to introduce children (within the school system) to "Humanity is a family thing" and "they are myself"

Marc: Entanglement is a wonderful word talking about Einstein because Einstein talked about non-locality – meaning that we are all entangled on some fundamental level. All points connect and we may be really just one mind, according to people like Larry Dossey. Whether you buy that or not, I think that that mentality often does apply to the far messier entanglements that we have in our lives with each other emotionally. We all know how easy it is to become entangled, not in a wonderful cat’s cradle but in a series of knots that only tighten the more we pull them. I think entanglement is sort of double-edged. It is true that there are things like codependency, ways that we become unhealthily entangled, enabling each other’s worst characteristics. But there is also the beauty of entanglement that we feed each other. There’s an old story that someone is taken to another world where each person is sitting and eating by themselves and the person says, “where are we?” and the answer is “this is hell.” Then the person is taken to a place where people have these long spoons and they are dipping into bowls and feeding each other. And the guide says “this is heaven.”
So we can all be sitting at the table – the dinner table, the conference table – and we can either be feeding ourselves or feeding each other. And which of those we do determines the kind of entanglement we find ourselves in. We are all entangled, especially in this era of crisis and bottleneck. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we frame things that way the sooner we are going to be able to find our way through to something that is much more workable.

I think part of that is indeed education of children in empathy. Children have a natural predilection in empathy. We’re primed for empathy. We have it in us right down to our mirror neurons that react when we see someone undergoing something similar to what we have experienced. These structures in the brain seem to be the primitive basis for empathy and compassion. They don’t know the difference between self and other. The same neuron fires the same way whether it’s happening to someone else or to one’s self. Children are aptly equipped to respond to each other. There are different levels of empathy among children. For example, there’s something called emotional contagion. If you were to go to a matinee with a child there are a lot of kids in the audience. Something happens with the characters on the screen and one kid starts crying, and suddenly they all start crying. It’s not because they’re feeling compassion for each other (although they might be) but it’s really kind of emotional distress, which is a contagious emotion. This is a very basic level of empathy: you’re resonating with others.

Then there’s cognitive empathy, which some children are able to do—it’s a developmental process—where you know the other is subjectivity not an object. You are able to feel and understand what they’re feeling. I quote in the book an 8-year-old boy who I found quite precocious. He was asked about how you feel for another person. He said, “Well basically, you make your mind into their mind and then you know what they’re feeling. Some kids don’t know how to do that; they think the other person is feeling what they’re feeling”.

This is kind of the mystery of empathy—we as humans are able to make this imaginative leap, or empathetic leap—or maybe there’s some mysterious psychic component... How do we know from the inside, what someone else is feeling? Usually we have to have had experienced ourselves. There’s a lot of retaliation on the playground: “There, I pinched you.. Now you know what it feels like” Each kids feels: “I want you to feel what I’m feeling.” How do we feel what the other is feeling—that’s the conundrum. A lot of it can be learned.

They’ve done experiments with kids where they’ve shown an adult doing a generous deed. An adult wins a prize, a bunch of tokens. In one experiment the adult keeps the tokens, and in the other, the adult gives away half. The researchers discovered that this exposure, the witnessing of the act of generosity or compassion is able to change behavior on the playground and in the classroom. This has been well studied.

Children can very readily learn empathy. There’s a lot of material available to introduce it into the school system. If we started there, with empathy training in elementary school, we would have a different society, very quickly. I encourage everyone on this call to look at their school system and think about if they could be active in trying to implement some of these practices.

Magdalena: Thank you so much Marc. I wonder if you’ve come across “Roots of Compassion,” which has been rolled out in some schools throughout Scotland here.

Marc: I have heard of it. I don’t know if it’s in the US – I’ve heard it’s an excellent program. I hope it will show up more here. Have you followed it in Scotland?

Magdalena: Yes, Mary Gordon, nurse-trained originally, from Canada, and she observed that children reaching six and seven, particularly boys, misbehaving, alienating, or attracting attention in class. One of the reasons could have been because they came from a background where they hadn’t been showing any empathy or compassion. A mother too busy or not up to offering that for initial empathy and experience of love in the infancy. What happens is the school arranges for a nine-month-old baby to be brought into the classroom and for the six, seven, and eight year olds to sit in a horseshoe around the baby on the floor—mother’s there, of course—all the usual little grimaces going across the nine month old’s face as a ball or a toy is just out of reach. The children all react, of course, to the baby’s distress, being surrounded by unknown faces, and where’s mommy and things like this. And it has magic results.

Marc: It’s so interesting you say that because it also works on adults. A friend of mine, who’s a negotiator at a state level—between conflicting countries, he told me he was doing a negotiation between two governments regarding a border dispute in South America and that at some point they’re all shouting at each other but this baby crawls through. They all stopped yelling, the argument stopped, and they just looked at this baby, you know, everyone went “ah.” The argument then stopped, and the negotiations actually went successful after that. All the behavior was changed. This has even been observed in primates. When two male chimps are arguing, sometimes a female chimp will hold a baby chimp between them or hand it to one of them and it will stop the argument. Also we know scientifically that for both men and women, when they are in the presence of babies we secrete oxytocin, the bonding chemical, love chemical. There should be more babies present in negotiations!

Reed: Can I get the name of the program, again?

Magdalena: Roots of Empathy, and for very young children I believe there’s a separate program: Seeds of Empathy. Here is Scotland, Child Action has bought the franchise for rolling out Roots of Empathy amongst schools.

Keiko: I work at Dominican University and I’ve been involved with instructors who are working on embedding compassion work like this into a more mainstream curriculum for incoming freshman. We do have a class that’s been run many times. One of the things that I’ve observed is I see that there’s sort of a cultural resistance to pain. It really dictates our healthcare system but it also drives a fear in trusting in love and trusting in compassion. There’s this resistance to it because it makes you vulnerable to pain. I loved the way that the book kind of dabbled in so many different arenas of where this is applicable that we might not have otherwise considered. I wanted to get your thoughts on pain resistance.

marcianbaraschMarc: I’m Buddhist by choice from early in my life. It shows up in every religion – the connection between vulnerability and compassion and empathy. You have people like Aquinas saying no one becomes compassionate unless they suffer. Or you have the first noble truth of Buddhism [Life is Suffering], which makes it seem like a dour and depressing religion, but actually I think it gets right at the root and the heart of the matter. We are afraid of empathy because we may suffer. Peope who are very empathetic build what psychologists call “an empathic wall” because life is difficult for them. If you are empathic and you pass somebody who is in need or on the street, when you witness pain, your response may go off the charts. If we want to be compassionate and not build empathic walls, we need to have a willingness to suffer. Especially with the U.S. being so given over to the pleasure principal/the pursuit of happiness I think it creates a collective empathy disorder.

If someone is hurting, someone who has perhaps been confident or brash, they suddenly become more empathetic. They’ve been pierced, they’ve been wounded. And that wound, from every tradition from Shamanism to Christianity to Hinduism—you know Hanuman is depicted as ripping open his heart—this “suffering with,” which is the Latin meaning of compassion, means that you understand the other. The reason we often hold people at bay because we don’t want to risk our own vulnerability but we also don’t want to risk getting entangled with theirs. We think we can avoid “the cooties of life.” But we can’t.

This is our situation in life – things are imperfect. The Buddhist solution, and I think in all the mystical traditions, is more that suffering is not an alien thing that comes at us from without but it has to very often do with our own clinging, ego, our own blind spots and our lack of being able to exchange ourselves with others. There is a breath practice in Buddhism called Tonglen where you are asked to give compassion to yourself. Not to go into too much detail, but say you are inhaling suffering and exhaling goodness and love. Then you think of the person closest to you and do the same thing. Then you think of someone a little further away, like a coworker. Eventually you work down the line until you think of the whole world and breath in all the suffering we witness.

You might think, my God, you’re poisoning yourself. You’re taking on all the woes of the world. You find, though, when you do this exercises what it does is it begins to lessen duality – the separation between self and others and that separation is the ultimate source of pain.

Reed: The source of the suffering is the separation. If you can buildbthe compassionate muscles or the breathing, the tools that we have lost touch of, it becomes not only more bearable but healthy.

Marc: exactly. In Jungian terms, you can’t mess with the shadow. We feel pain and others feel pain. If we try to only live in the light, the shadow builds up and the pain gets worse. So it’s about having a balanced life, pain and happiness. Often we are constructing pain unconsciously because we are holding life itself at bay, its energy, we are interpreting things in the wrong way, we are adding to the pain by trying to avoid it. Non-resistance to pain often lessens the pain. If you can be in contact with your own suffering that comes with life, you can be kind and loving towards others. I remember once injuring my leg and having it in a cast and hobbling around. I watched in the grocery store as someone was fumbling with their change I realized that I had been subtly and unconsciously intolerant with people who moved slowly up until this happened. It’s really kind of embarrassing to admit.

Reed: Meditation might be another piece of this puzzle that we might introduce children to as a way of coping with the world.

Marc: Right. It’s the same stick, and you can grab it from either end. Compassion for self and compassion for other. I think, though, that our tendency to focus on ourselves is so overwhelming that maybe we need to focus on the other.

Suzanne: I have been working for thirty years with feelings and emotions and one of the things I’ve discovered is many of us don’t have much experience with our own feelings or others’, and that scares us, so we don’t address right up front how hard that can be. I’ve been studying and teaching Nonviolent Communication and Marshall Rosenberg made an interesting distinction which is the distinction between sympathy and empathy. Empathy is going into their world but all the time being aware that their world is not our world. Whereas sympathy, we go into their world and we start feeling and then everything gets kind of mixed up.

Marc: Yes, that’s an incredibly important distinction. Some people call it alterity. Martin Buber said that, “until I know the other is an other I can’t be compassionate.” There’s an interesting dialectic between “we’re all one” and a kind of a subtle narcissism that creeps into our interactions with other people where we are projecting that they’re like us. Oscar Wilde said “do not do unto others as you would do unto yourself because others might have different taste.” People call it the platinum rule – don’t do unto others what you’d be done unto, but do unto others what they would want done unto as they want or need as best you can ascertain. Really understanding that they are different. It does take some training and inquiry.
Suzanne: And it’s actually easier because we are not getting all wrapped up in them. We can stay so much more present and attentive if we just try to hear what they’re saying, what they’re needing, what they’re feeling. And rather than them getting all wrapped up in our interpretation and then sharing our good advice, if we’re just empathizing and feeding back to them what it is we are hearing them say and why it’s important to them it actually turns out to be way easier than all the other things that we do.

Marc: That’s beautiful. So much weal and woe in the world comes from people feeling not seen or heard. Even when people are working with the aftermath of genocide these types of techniques have been used. You know, “repeat back what this person just said. Show that you heard their unique expression.” It’s remarkably healing between people.

Reed: This gets to another question, one about forgiveness. The Charter is helping to raise money for a documentary called Risking Light, a film that explores forgiveness. I encourage you to check that out and see if it’s something that you are interested in supporting.

Marc, you have an entire chapter devoted to forgiveness "forgiveness begins with acknowledging one's own pain, shame, and sense of failure, healing the shattered sense of self-worth, and grieving the loss of faith in other people" Is forgiveness largely a private, autonomous action? Is forgiveness for the forgiver or for the forgiven? Thoughts on that.

Marc: I think there’s a scale with forgiveness. There’s a lot of analysis of this: What is a successful forgiveness transaction? There seems to be a kind of needs hierarchy, almost like Maslow. On the first level, you are doing this for yourself rather than for the person who has wronged you. You do know the old adage, “to not forgive is like drinking poison and thinking the other guy is going to die.” Lack of forgiveness damages us tremendously. We need to somehow forgive that person in an imaginative exercise.

The next step up, though, is what do you do with that individual. There are all kinds of amazing programs. Some prisons have them. In a supervised and safe way over a lot of time, the perpetrator and the victim are brought together for a dialogue. You can look this up online; it will bring you to tears – the compassionate healings between people who have wronged each other.

In my book, there’s a case of a man who forgave the person who raped and killed his daughter. Interestingly, not only did they become friends of sorts but that person who was forgiven found that act of forgiveness to be so incomprehensible, such an act of grace, that he became the healer in the prison. In some traditional cultures, where forgiveness is extremely important, you’ll see cases where a young man murders another young man, and the family of the murder victim adopts that young man as their son.

There are cultures where you are enjoined to give a gift to the person who has wronged you. Stuff that seems completely incomprehensible in a way. I think we’re feeling our way into this collectively—these different levels different methods, different paradigms.

You take something like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was forgiveness as statecraft, forgiveness at a social level in South Africa with Desmond Tutu. That also had remarkable effects on the society where there could have been a lot of tit-for-tat and vengefulness in the black majority taking over but instead it became an act of collective forgiveness. The perpetrators were allowed to come forth and talk about their crimes and not be punished. However, there was a lot of criticism of that at the same time because there is a relationship between forgiveness and justice. In the Tree of Life in the Kabbalah there’s love and rahamim, forgiveness on one side and justice on the other. They say God always errs, always leans, toward forgiveness. But in the case of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission one critique has been, “so you get up and you say you’ve stolen by bicycle, but you don’t give my bicycle back.” What is the dialectic between forgiveness and love and justice?

I think we need to look at restorative justice as it is practiced in indigenous communities and see how it’s being done. We have long been a society that’s been all about what’s called talionic justice—retaliatory justice – an eye for an eye. But one needs to heal another in order to heal themselves, to heal a relationship, a family, a society, a world. One of the most destructive forces on the planet is lack of forgiveness. Wars are taking place all over the world because of grudges, because of lack of forgiveness. Wars are taking place all over the world because of lack of forgiveness, because of some old grudge. The war between the sects of Islam. The fratricidal wars of the Middle East. It’s poisoning our planet. There is almost nothing more important than spreading the art of forgiveness.

Reed: The Jungian idea of naiveté, or innocence, and then distinction-making, and then synthesis: one of the challenges before us in making this world more compassionate is that it is not entirely just a return to indigenous nature. We can’t un-live the distinction making we’ve been through. Does that suggest you any direction that we might be going in terms of growing compassion growing the “kindness gene”?

Marc: When I speak of indigenous it’s not so much a return to some earlier state of nature, which of course never was the case in indigenous life anyway. It’s looking at the sophistication of people who have learned to live in a community for thousands of years. What it takes for everybody to work together. How those old forms evolve into something that grow into... how we can grow into understanding, and develop new ways of practicing forgiveness. I think that is certainly something in process. And the idea of forgiveness on a large scale, how we can make this a common practice, a quotidian practice. How we teach people how to do this. We are recognizing that this is a skill, something we can teach. That’s perhaps somewhat new. And our ability with communication and our global society to rapidly spread social inventions.

Our capacity to forgive is in-dwelling. You see it in primate communities – it is a very old structure in our brains. We have the capacity, but we need the training to make it a norm. Ideas and practices can spread very, very rapidly. We are in a period of rapid social evolution where compassion and forgiveness are absolute necessities for us surviving together. The rise of the strongman, the hate and sectarianism that we are seeing can be very discouraging. But that is a contagion but so is love. It is remarkable how fast a society can change.

We forget the shifts in societies in Eastern Europe in the late 80s and early 90s. Places like Czechoslovakia that had a Velvet Revolution that had been building for a long time. I think that our job as agents of compassion is to build that connective tissue any way we can with some faith that this is having some collective resonance.

Reed: We’re at the one-hour mark. I imagine we’ll continue for about ten minutes or so. If you have a question or comment for Marc, I will be happy to make your mic hot.

Magdalena: I was just going to say, in the UK you’ll see that we have had this terrible thing happen to Jo Cox, a very bright and upcoming member of parliament. Her husband and family have reacted with complete compassion and forgiveness, an outpouring of love. They want to continue Jo’s campaign. She has been a very compassionate activist. We are waiting to see the outcome of this dreadful thing that has happened.

Marc: Yes, and I’m thinking of the murder in the church in Charleston, South Carolina. This remarkable act of forgiveness changed everything. It melted the hardest hearts of the Sons of Confederacy. The Confederate flags came down, almost overnight, which had been an item of contention since the Civil War. It seemed like they would never come down. It was one remarkable act of forgiveness that made almost an overnight change.

Reed: Marilyn Jones posted ahead of the call this comment: “Your book is the most balanced yet persuasive argument for compassion that I have ever read. It persuaded me to undertake personally some act of compassionate service every day, no matter how small.” Might you talk a little bit about the steps, that we’re not trying to solve the world but, as you say in the subtitle, walk in the path of kindness?

Marc: I think it can be miniscule. I think we all have these small but shining moments that stand out. I remember being with my now-ex girlfriend and still close friend and we were sitting and having tea and she reached over and took my tea bag out of the glass. I don’t know why it hit me so hard, but it was that she noticed it was steeping for too long. It deeply affected me.

When I was ill with cancer and had just come out of the hospital, a woman in my building who I hadn’t spoken to knocked on the door and brought me soup. I found myself with my head in her lap weeping because of that act of kindness

Or what I would call the Les Miz example, from Les Misérables, where Jean Valjean escapes from prison, is taken in by a kindly priest. He’d become feral in prison and so repays the priest’s kindness by stealing all his silverware. He’s apprehended by the gendarmes, and they are going to throw him back into prison and the priest shows up and says, “no, these are by gifts to my friend... in fact, my friend you forgot this candlestick.” It’s so boggling and confounding to Jean Valjean that it changes his life.

There have been studies about how one incredibly small, even a kind word, can change someone’s life. We should be incredibly conscious of that can happen – nothing is too small.

I started this organization called the Green World Campaign after I wrote the book, thinking “god I’ve got to do something tangible, I can’t just write.” The slogan was: it’s amazing what one seed can grow. I worked on that one seed with very little. We planted several million trees around the world now on three continents and in six countries and the seed has led to what looks like it will be a transformative project in West Africa in Nigeria with a million farmers to grow superfood Moringa trees that do landscape restoration, poverty alleviation, food security, and climate change resilience -- all kinds of good things that I could have never dreamed would have come from this kind of cockeyed idea I had of, gee, I want to plant the seeds somewhere, I want to grow a tree somewhere. I think that it’s so volatile, it’s so fertile to act from the heart sincerely and try to do it methodically given the needs of our time and just see what happens. It’s an attractant. Marvelous things come from the ground when we plant the seeds of compassion.

Reed: if you want to know more about this, go to Thank you for your time today, Marc, and thank you for sharing it and your insights.

Marc: Thank you for tuning into this. It’s a wonderful invention. I would love to do it again sometime. My friend Mark Gerzon will be doing it next time. Kudos to all that have shown up and to all that you’re doing in the world.

Reed: The next session is Sept. 17 at 9 a.m. Pacific, noon Eastern. The Reunited States of America: How We Can Bridge the Partisan Divide by Mark Gerzon. This a book that William Ury says is “a brilliant and practical manifesto that shows why and how we need to work together for the good of the nation.” Learn more and register here.

Marilyn: Thank you so much. Marc is a great friend of the Charter and we are so grateful that he does this type of thing with us. It’s always wonderful to hear from him. I wanted to remind people in case they hadn’t seen the newsletter of two things – we really are working in conjunction with Marc in re-greening the world in one generation. We want organizations and schools and businesses to contact us so that we can really start to work in different sectors of the world. Especially with schools - this is something that students can grab onto and make a difference and see it happen right in front of their eyes.

Also, we are also working in collaboration with the New York City Nonviolence Center in offering a course by Thom Bond: Compassion: Reflection and Practice. The course starts next week and runs for 52 weeks. A curriculum driven by reflection, concept and practice is delivered to your email once a week. The cost of the course could be nothing, it could be a dollar a week, it could be whatever you want to give. Five thousand people took the course last year and we’re hoping to double that number this year. Link to the course:
Thank you all, so much.

Reed: The Charter for Compassion has no cost of entry. To affirm the charter, to become a member, to start on the path to make your community a compassionate community – all is offered freely. However, this does not mean we don’t have financial needs. We have one full-time employee, a part time administrator, we need to pay for web hosting, conferences like this one, limited travel. We depend on contributions from supporters like you to make this happen. Are you pledge to give $10 a month to help the Charter’s efforts to organize? How about $5.00? Please consider donating.

Marc: I really appreciate Marilyn’s mention of this project, that Green World Campaign, the Charter and Compassionate Communities are working on together. It’s really more than an environmental organization. The meme is “green compassion.” It’s really using trees and planting to cultivate compassion in schools – ways to look at compassion in a larger sense of planetary compassion. We’ve found that kids really like the identification that they are doing something that is part of a larger cause, one that has benign outcomes for the world.

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About Us

  • charter brand transp blue mediumCharter for Compassion provides an umbrella for people to engage in collaborative partnerships worldwide. Our mission is to bring to life the principles articulated in the Charter for Compassion through concrete, practical action in a myriad of sectors.


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