By Kimberly Horner
“What is compassion?”
That was the question on everyone’s mind on Wednesday, April 24 when students and faculty gathered in the Library Auditorium for the “Forum on Compassion: Finding Common Ground in a Complex World.”
The event, organized by The Open Circle, featured a screening of Karen Armstrong’s 2008 “Technology Entertainment Design Talk,” which was followed by a faculty-led discussion panel and a signing of the Treaty of Compassion.
In the TED Talk, Armstrong explained how compassion can be found at the heart of Islam, Christianity and Judaism through the teachings of the Golden Rule.
“Every single one of the major world religions has highlighted and has put at the core of their tradition what has become known as the Golden Rule,” said Armstrong, a scholar and former Roman Catholic sister. “Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you.”
Following the screening, professors Mort Winston, Glory Thomas and Mark Woodford shared their unique perspectives on compassion based on their academic disciplines.
Winston, a philosophy professor at the College, deconstructed the flaws of the Golden Rule, arguing that it forces others to make assumptions about the needs of others.
“I don’t think you should use the Golden Rule at all,” Winston said.
Although he believes in compassion, Winston explained why Armstrong was wrong to link her compassion movement to the Golden Rule.
Glory Thomas, professor of Buddhist religion, also found fault in Armstrong’s link to compassion and religion. She defines compassion as something that is shared by all people.
“Compassion is not just a religious teaching, it is a human teaching,” Thomas said. “Commitment to alleviate another person’s suffering, that is compassion.”
Taking a different approach, Mark Woodford, chair of Graduate Counseling Program, responded to Armstrong’s talk “through the lens of neuroscience.”
Woodford explained that the neocortex and prefrontal cortex of the brain are responsible for the five functions that make human beings compassionate.
Following a brief question and answer session with the professors, members of the Circle of Compassion introduced Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion, outlining principles of compassion. Students were then given the opportunity to sign the Treaty of Compassion.