Interning for the Compassion Games, I have elected to spend much time seeking out stories of love, hope and compassion to put on the Compassion Map. The process has been illuminating.
One thing I’ve learned while searching for stories of compassion is that there is, as the truism goes, a great bias towards negative news in the media, especially in foreign coverage. You really have to dig to find anything positive. The effect of this, naturally, is separating and divisive, both reinforcing and playing on our prejudices and stereotypes while tamping out any hope we might have for the future.
We learn about corruption and violence in India, which is viewed as a threat to US-dominance through the aggressive, zero-sum, competition-based paradigm that we sometimes adopt, but we don’t learn about the Indian finance minister who emphasizes that Indian growth must occur with mindfulness and compassion for the poor. We read about arms traffickers and ailing Chernobyl victims in Eastern Europe, but we don’t read about the thousands of Estonians who, on a single day, came together in a stunningly well-planned volunteer project to pick up literal tons of garbage from their nation’s forests. We hear about graft, instability and religious oppression in Pakistan but don’t hear of how Karachi is known regionally as the “city of charity” and that its moneyed citizens, during Ramadan, often eschew hit-or-miss welfare organization in order to give direct support to the city’s poor and underprivileged.
At first glance (or first Google search) the modern world does seem terminally tragic and decadent. But like everything, upon deeper inspection things change. In spite of the relentless – though important – negativity that posits a downward trend in our world’s state, every now and then something strange, beautiful, and contrarian appears through the cracks. The world is, in fact, full of suffering, of pain, of corruption and violence, abuse and injustice. Those things are all there, and they are all real; we should be able to look them in the eye and be utterly honest about their existence. But the negative is not the whole picture. There is, simultaneously, love, caring, and compassion around the world, a growing web of world-affirming kindness that we need only a bit of curiosity to reveal.
If we are aware of only the dark, few will think that it is worthwhile to care, to love, and to give of ourselves, because humankind will look tragic, selfish, violent and unlovable. But if we can tease out the whole picture, the narrative will start to shift, and with this we will start to shift peoples’ response to the world.
The Compassion Map is a tool we can use as an antidote to the reigning narratives about what the world is like right now. It gives us a chance to offer the other half of the story and inspire others to join us. We invite you to help us tell this tale.