Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I just got an email from TED with a link to this wonderful video by renowned filmmaker, Jesse Dylan who recently made the A Shared Culture video. This new video below is about Compassion. I've written about compassion in the past and I think it is the single most important thing that we need right now. The Charter for Compassion asks everyone to tell their story of compassion. Looks like a great project.

Charter for Compassion

Help us create a Charter for Compassion

People of all nations, all faiths, all backgrounds, are invited to contribute.

By recognizing that the Golden Rule is fundamental to all world religions, the Charter for Compassion can inspire people to think differently about religion. This Charter is being created in a collaborative project by people from all over the world. It will be completed in 2009. Use this site to offer language you'd like to see included. Or inspire others by sharing your own story of compassion.


Except that the Golden Rule isn't fundamental, or shouldn't be. It presumes we all want to be treated in some sort of charitable manner, when in fact any number of people want to be treated poorly, out of some sense of self-loathing, masochism, or the like.

The Golden Rule is the foundation for any number of transparently unethical rationalizations, such as "Anyone else would have done it," or "We would all steal from a blind man, given the opportunity." It justified aspersions against character. "If I were handicapped, I wouldn't want to be helped up the stairs."

What people in fact want is not to be treated the same, but rather, to be treated as different. For one person to respect another's values and traditions, even if he does not care for them or even support them. To support the right of an individual to be treated in society in a way he would not want personally to be treated, because that's what the other person wants. To be tolerant of, indeed, to embrace, diversity.

I am by no means the first to make such criticisms, and no serious initiative on ethics can ignore them. From Wikipedia:

Many people have criticized the golden rule; George Bernard Shaw once said that "The golden rule is that there are no golden rules". Shaw also criticized the golden rule, "Do not do unto others as you would expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same." (Maxims for Revolutionists). "The golden rule is a good standard which is further improved by doing unto others, wherever possible, as they want to be done by." Karl Popper (The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 2) This concept has recently been called "The Platinum Rule"[33] Philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell, have objected to the rule on a variety of grounds.[34] The most serious among these is its application. How does one know how others want to be treated? The obvious way is to ask them, but this cannot be done if one assumes they have not reached a particular and relevant understanding.

The golden rule is no foundation for ethics, and people should not pretend that it is.

I don't have a strong view on the Golden Rule. I agree that forcing your values on others isn't really very compassionate. I think that compassion in the true sense of the word involves a great deal of empathy and effort to embrace diversity and understand the other person's specific suffering... compassion, at least in my mind, is quite different from "charity".

Assuming I understood it, this video is well done and gets the point across well. The primary point being: If someone is in need, help them, period.

It is the move into that nebulous world where "tolerance" is the universal value that the entire idea of this video simply falls apart. Pitting "tolerance" against "fundamentalism" is a battle already lost.

Secular people have little concept of what it means to put one's trust in a god. It means that, if the god says something is good, then that thing, person or activity is good. And if that god says that something is evil, then that thing, person or activity is evil. End of story.

Some religious people may attempt to rise above this simple fact, but they are disregarded by the more fundamental practitioners of the religion as unfaithful.

It must be understood that, in order to excel at ANY activity one must focus on the fundamentals of that activity whether it is sports, business, relationships, or religion. To praise sticking to fundamentals in sports, business, and relationships (as we do, especially in America); but then attack fundamentals (or fundamentalism) in religion just gives the religious faithful more fuel. The faithful know full well that their religion must be able to sustain attacks on the fundamentals.

For instance, it is classically believed by non-fundamentalist Christians, that one's goodness will get them into heaven. However, many martyrs were made by rejecting that idea entirely and asserting that only by putting one's trust in Jesus Christ is heaven obtained. This is a very fundamental view that supersedes all others in this particular faith. No amount of appeal to compassion, goodness, or world peace will change that for the faithful. And any attack on this fundamental tenet will cause them that believe it to cling more tightly thereto.

Therefore, unless the appeal is made TO fundamentalism, this idea is already doomed to fail.

Leave a comment