Peace Day: ‘What happens when compassion speaks?’

September 22, 2013 by

For Gerald Gillespie, compassion is not just about the dictionary definition of deep sympathy and kindness. Rather, it’s the humility and gratitude that are a part of the “higher self,” the Kansas Wesleyan University professor told more than 50 sisters and guests at the Nazareth Motherhouse for Sunday’s observance of the International Day of Peace.

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Reminding his audience of the classic TV commercial with the tagline, “When E.F. Hutton speaks, everyone listens,” he asked, “What happens when compassion speaks?”

Gillespie, who is an associate professor of psychology and chair of the Department of Behavioral Science & Human Services, is also director of the Spirituality Resource Center of Salina and a longtime friend of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

Sunday’s program was sponsored by the sisters’ Justice and Peace Center in Salina, Pax Christi Salina and the Concordia Year of Peace Committee.

Gillespie’s topic was the Charter for Compassion, a worldwide effort launched in 2009 by British author and religious commentator Karen Armstrong.

According to the organization, “The Charter for Compassion is a document that transcends religious, ideological, and national differences. Supported by leading thinkers from many traditions, the Charter activates the Golden Rule around the world.”

But according to Gillespie, it is even more than that — it is evidence that humans as a species may be “growing up,” from a destructive and violent “adolescence” to the early years of adulthood.

Humanity, in a word, may be maturing.

“We may be at one of those rare moments in human history,” he said, where a true shift toward compassion is possible.

Part of Gillespie’s argument comes from looking at what he calls the “light” of history instead of just the “dark shadows.”

“The human narrative has been so focused on violence and warmaking that we have neglected to notice how much cooperation and collaboration our evolution has required,” he said. “We often forget the preponderance of goodness in our human experience.”

He also argues that hard science supports his call for compassion.

“Biologists are revisiting Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ evidence,” he said, because of a greater understanding of the role of cooperation within species. At the same time, psychological research is showing that babies just a few weeks old respond differently to unselfish, or “good” behavior. And brain studies show that the pleasure centers in the human brain “light up when we serve people, when we act generously” – because it makes us feel good.

“So when compassion speakers, we listen — we respond — biologically,” Gillespie said. “We are hard-wired for compassion.”

So, he asked “Why is it so hard?”

As one answer to his question, Gillespie cited an opinion piece that was posted in the online version of Forbes magazine Sept. 17.

The columnist argues that highly paid entrepreneurs and other executives are demonized when they should be idolized. One passage reads:

Imagine the effect on our culture, particularly on the young, if the kind of fame and adulation bathing Lady Gaga attached to the more notable achievements of say, Warren Buffett. Or if the moral praise showered on Mother Teresa went to someone like (Goldman Sachs CEO) Lloyd Blankfein, who … has done infinitely more for mankind.

“That is about ego, and it’s devious and insidious,” Gillespie said. “Ego is not our real self; ego is about control. But our true self is who we are, who we have grown up to be.”

Gillespie believes that “we are interconnected now in ways that were unimaginable a very short time ago.” And, he adds, “The Charter for Compassion arriving now is a sign that there is something under way. The true self is saying, ‘Wake up!’

“And if we speak compassion, then people will listen.”

Gillespie was introduced by Sister Carolyn Teter, who worked with him when he was on the faculty at Marymount College in Salina and who has joined him in numerous protests and activities over the years.

Also during the program, Sister Jean Rosemarynoski led a prayer titled “Blessings for our Times” and Sister Dian Hall provided the music.

The United Nations established the International Day of Peace in 1981, and the first Peace Day was celebrated in September 1982. Since 2002, it has been observed on Sept. 21, which the U.N. has declared as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence.

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