Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Without taking thought . . .

I wonder . . . when you were young, did you do what I did? Did you keep a Quotations Book?

Between the ages of thirteen and twenty-seven, I accumulated a succession of these journals. Into them, in handwriting far more legible than my handwriting today, I carefully transcribed page after page of what had moved me, inspired me, amused me . . . passages from plays,
from biographies and autobiographies, from poems and novels. I still have them.
More surprising, I find that I can still quote many of the passages from memory.These notebooks set a bedrock of beliefs and aspirations that, surprising as it seems, has barely changed down the intervening years. Encountering my teenage self in the browning pages I'm impressed and humbled.
Could it be that I peaked at fifteen and have been going downhill ever since?
No . . . we won't even consider that one!

What made me think of my Quotations Books? It was one particular passage from the autobiography of Victor Gollancz, carefully transcribed by me in my late teens, "Love is not love," he wrote, "unless you can love, without taking thought, the unloving. Tolerance is not tolerance unless you can tolerate, without taking thought, intolerance . . ."
It was the 'without taking thought' that I found so difficult all those years ago, and, this week, it was those words that came shining out of the past to unexpectedly illuminate the present.

I'm sure you know of the TED Prize. In the words of the organisers, ' it is awarded annually to an exceptional individual who receives $100,000 and, much more important, "One Wish to Change the World."'
The assurance is also given that TED will do their best to make this wish come true.

In 2007, following in the footsteps of other 'exceptional individuals' such as Bill Clinton and Jamie Oliver, the award was given to the writer Karen Armstrong. And her wish to TED, the wish that would change the world?

"I wish," she said, "that you would help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion . . ."

It sounds wonderful, doesn't it. Wonderful, that is, until you get down to the nitty gritty and come to Gollancz's 'without taking thought' aspect of the Charter.

Compassion for all of those undergoing the trials of persecution and deprivation . . . ?
Oh yes, I can manage that.
But compassion for the persecutors . . . and those causing the deprivation . . . ?
Aye, there's the rub.
Compassion for those suffering from prejudice and bigotry . . . ?
No problem.
But compassion for the prejudiced and the bigots . . . ?
You see my difficulty?

But, as Karen Armstrong explains so cogently, compassion is not compassion unless it embraces everyone . . . every concept . . . every belief. Unless it gets down to the common ground that underpins all of us, the common humanity, the divine life-force, it is not true compassion, merely selective support.

So . . . with Victor Gollancz and my teenage self urging me on, I've signed the Charter.

Please, will you join me . . . ?
You could help to prevent me from 'taking thought'!