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The Dynamics of Compassion


The Dynamics of Compassion

Robert C. Koehler

It’s too easy to reduce acts of kindness to an “aw, isn’t that nice?” sort of irrelevance. What if we thought about them, instead, as templates for foreign policy?

For one thing, if we did, there would be no such thing as “foreign” policy — no segregation of most of humanity behind borders and labels, to be controlled and, most of all, feared. There would only be getting-to-know-you policy, not in a simplistic sense but with a deep and courageous curiosity . . . because our survival depends on it.


The Dark forces keep the public mind in the Dark Ages under a constant simmer of Bernays' sauce. Only if Enlightenment can overcome this oppression could there be peace, for the Dark forces prattle on and on about this bogeyman or the other. Mr. Koehler has it right, the top-down approach won't work, as that is the tactic of the Dark forces. Enlightenment must bubble up from below. Get to your fences and chat with your neighbors; it's your duty.


Robert you truly are a man out of time. You are from a future that may or may not be possible. This is not a criticism; I admire and respect what you're doing, and your clear, unencumbered writing.

So much of what is editorialized and commented on here goes to the question of JUSTICE. A book by that name (with the sub-title "What's The Right Thing To do?" ) by Michael J. Sandel, a Professor of Government at Harvard University is a good primer for anyone who is interested. Written in a style that is accessible even to the mildly language challenged it exposes the difficulties in the micro and macro deliberations about what is fair, moral, and just.


Koehler's piece is light-years ahead of the Bacevich piece i read first. Humanity engaged in a project on the scale of inventing and developing language: Inventing and developing nonviolence. And with eyes on the prize: "Because our survival depends on it."

THIS is realism far beyond the "realism" of the stunted leadership of the endless war parties. Curiosity, compassion, respect, humanity, nonviolent communication. Looking forward to Koehler continuing to develop his thesis. And looking forward to struggling with my own practice in the time that i have left.


Once again, I find that Mr. Koehler's blanket indictment of human beings misses all of the following:

  1. The Judeo-Christian PROGRAMMING that insists, from birth, that persons are guilty sinners
  2. The top-down government systems that push narratives of patriotism based on national beliefs in exceptionalism
  3. The fear-factor that is so consistent with patriarchy, and how it's used to inflame "suspicion of other"
  4. The leaders who purposely equate justice with revenge or vengeance
  5. The mockery to Christ's teachings shown when forgiveness is NEVER put into practice except by small "truth and reconciliation" committees

And what I fault most in Mr. Koehler's return to this same narrative is his unwillingness to examine what Patriarchy means, and that when primacy is granted to men with power, they will use force to maintain systems based on domination and control.

Too many males see women now in the military, or occasionally serving as heads of corporations or visible in high govt. positions as if the sprinkling of a few women into a system that is still based on war, dominance, and economic (as well as social & cultural) hierarchies somehow comports with Democracy... or that women are now fully represented, their would-be complementary views & predilections serving as a counterbalance to the mighty male mindset that makes war its centerpiece.

The main reason why the Anglo-European love for war still taints so much of the world is due to the fact that those cultures developed weapons and found religious authorities who endorsed the use of said weapons on any so unfortunate as to live in lands these entities wanted to own, resource-plunder, or control.

Since THAT model has remained in place, it produces war and resource desecration in its wake.

It is not what many natives of South America would do. It is not what Buddhist monks would do. It is not what enlightened feminists would do. It is not what members of faith-based Black Communities would do.

It is what the world, according to its elite masters, has been conditioned to do.

And any writer who leaves out the pervasive use of propaganda, mind control, and the influence of religious houses of worship in FOMENTING war fever and/or hostility to other tribes is, in my view, irresponsible.

People seldom want war. The only way that preference can be shifted is when they are put under attack or convinced that they are under attack.

Many of the so-called terrorist events are inside jobs executed to produce that reaction. Those who set these triggers recognize that response will be instinctive.

Instead of calling out those who spread false teachings, indoctrinate the masses, and design campaigns of fear in order to win support for war (and that hardly means that all persons are onboard the pro-war juggernaut) ... Mr. Koehler falls back on the "WE are all to blame" CRAP.

Do your Christian penance by wearing a hair shirt, and leave good people out of your ruthless blanket condemnation!

Here comes that WE....

"War doesn’t work. Bombing ISIS doesn’t work. Closing our border to Syrians — or Mexicans — doesn’t work. Yet “we,” by which I mean the whole world, or at least its community of nation states and terrorists (a single entity, as far as I can tell), go back to this suicidal behavior again and again and again. “France is at war.” We greet terror with revenge. It accomplishes nothing except to make matters worse — infinitely worse — but somehow it feels right at the time, so we keep doing it."


what a day, huh, bob? this world so needs to hearken to your message and "rethink war" and realize that we are all fellow passengers traveling through the universe on earth, personified as Gaia. yet the fearful, hateful act of three people in san bernadito california once again sends shock waves around the world and fuels the fires of outrage, mistrust and xenophobia here in the u.s. of a. we have become as a ship lost in space, swirling in the dark eddies of fear and negativity. yet, within each one of us lies the power of compassion that inspired that beautiful passenger to face a threat with Love and Understanding, the ability to rise above and walk above the turbulent waters that threaten to sink this ship~our only home in the cosmos. today i think of song from my childhood and post this stanza. think on these things!

"Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step i take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
With peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me."



Published in 1996, I regret not having read this sooner, but on the other hand, the additional years of experience provide greater resonance with the observations and meticulous documentation of the human journey all to often not taught.

Robert Kohler asks: "Why are we violent but not illiterate?" a most valuable line of inquiry to introduce. I would also ask, why has the west for centuries demonized the agraphic peoples as "illiterate", while at the same time taking, for example, the taxonomic structures from the orally transmitted encyclopedia of Guarani biological knowledge in South America? This knowledge continues to be considerably more complex than that of the west and is why the Guarani and other indigenous peoples are inexhaustibly fighting for their land rights and the rights of the Earth to be recognized.


Thanks for the link. Have heard of the book but not read it. A quote from the page, that encapsulates much of what i've learned in my time here:

“Ecologically considered, it is not primarily our verbal statements that are "true" or "false," but rather the kind of relations that we sustain with the rest of nature. A human community that lives in a mutually beneficial relation with the surrounding earth is a community, we might say, that lives in truth. The ways of speaking common to that community—the claims and beliefs that enable such reciprocity to perpetuate itself—are, in this important sense, true. They are in accord with a right relation between these people and their world. Statements and beliefs, meanwhile, that foster violence toward the land, ways of speaking that enable the impairment or ruination of the surrounding field of beings, can be described as false ways of speaking—ways that encourage an unsustainable relation with the encompassing earth. A civilization that relentlessly destroys the living land it inhabits is not well acquainted with truth, regardless of how many supported facts it has amassed regarding the calculable properties of its world.”


Endgame, I don't see where Siouxrose is blanketly "male-hating," as you say. She is being discerning here, isn't she, by specifying that she's speaking of "men with power" in a Patriarchal society, and the "too many" who positively identify with this system? Where do you see her condemning all males? I think that part of what can make it hard for some men (not that I'm assuming you're one of these, for I don't know) to hear criticism of male dominance, is that such criticism immediately feels like a blanket condemnation of all men--which, I would add, can happen because of anti-feminist indoctrination that is prevalent in our culture, messages which equate any criticism of male dominance with men hating.

While I like this piece by Koehler and don't agree with Siouxrose that his "we" language is so irresponsible (I think his use of "we" is meant less to implicate, blame, excuse, or justify, as it is meant to call for a dreaming of collective human capacities, and examining the power of compassion in action), I also see Siouxrose's point that there is a particular dominating mindset leading much of our world crises, one that needs to be called out, examined, and repudiated. For whatever reason, I am more inspired than spurned by this dream of collective human learning, even if I also know there are very deep differences of culpability, power, and understanding among us. We remain one species, and perhaps the "powerless" ones among us actually carry as great a potential for powerful influence on the whole as the "powerful" ones. In this world, a handful of male billionaires can bring about genocidal war, but a little Muslim girl, a homeless beggar, a disillusioned soldier--people such as these have changed the world for the better, and in some cases very greatly for the better.


'souixrose', robert koehler makes a magnificent effort to bring us all together into the spirit of Love, compassion and mutual respect for all of eath's inhabitants. i do not hold myself responsible for the choices obama makes, his killl list, his readiness to jump at any excuse to continue waging war in the middle east, africa, south america or anywhere people speak out against the violence perpetrated by uncle sam and his clique self~named, "the international community". we've all been exposed to the voices of militaristic and religious "leaders" who profit from our willingness of so many to give in to divisive paranoia and fear mongering that has for thousands of years maintained a constant, unrelenting state of war; yet at least 10% to 15% of us have managed to shake off those shackles and make an unwavering stance for Peace. according to a recent greenwald essay ninety percent of this nation's adult population supported waging war in afghanistan. and remember how quickly the mood changed after the bush regime put boots on the ground in iraq? men an women alike jump on the war ship! well, it's just darn unpatriotic to speak out. those who allow others to mislead and control their minds contribute to the problems just as much as those who employ all manner of propaganda. if we are not a part of the solution, then yes, we are a part of the problem. we who envision a better world cannot get there by falling to the same divisive tactics we wish to overcome.

robert koehler is an excellent writer and a man with a good heart. let's not hang him on a word!


We need to walk in another's shoes

To step in the right direction


Change would have to start with attitudes, and begin right here in America. When we decided to target the poor, such notions as "empathy" and "compassion" were discarded completely. We are about competition and survival of the fittest. This is only possible because we learned to view "the others" as something less than fellow human beings -- whether we're talking about the poor, about people in other nations, etc. Compassion is OK in theory, especially around the holidays, but it has no place in today's US culture.


Assuming they still have shoes.


Have you noticed what happens when we've tried to organize and stand up together? Remember Occupy. What began as an extraordinary people's movement was quickly redefined -- by Dem pols and liberal media -- as a "movement of middle class workers" alone. Those who disagreed walked away, and Occupy as a movement died (even though some continue to exploit the word).

When we won't even address our own critical poverty crisis right here, what makes you think there's anything we can do to change conditions elsewhere? We focus on those crises around the world that we know we really can't change. Want to end war? How? Keep on signing daily petitions? Government doesn't listen unless it has to. We would be glad to protest, to march on DC, but can't risk taking time off from work.


A nod and thanks to Koehler for his support of nonviolence. Let's note that it should be greatly obvious why nonviolence would not come from the top down:

The top is not only violent,
The top is violence.
Not only this top is violent,
Having a top is violent.
Not only is having a top violent,
Having a top is violence.

Violence from the bottom is to right the wrong, but mostly rights wrongly.


Okay, I hear your qualification. I personally have not seen, however, posts by Siouxrose that are "filled with anti-male writing," but rater a determined calling-out of male privilege and negative paternalistic male dominance. And I agree very much with her that this form of domination is a fundamental one to the problems current in our world: women's wisdom and power is spurned and relations between the sexes are poisoned on political, cultural, economic, and spiritual levels in ways that are virtually invisible through male-dominant society's lens, yet hamper so much of the understanding and healing we need. Men who see this and recognize the need to reject such domination and cultivate true gender partnership are as critical as women and those who identify as neither male nor female--as critical to the revolutionary changes needed.


I don't recall Ghengis Khan considering himself a European. And he was just one of a fair number of non-Europeans who enjoyed a fight. The Mughal Empire was won by invasion. They weren't Europeans either. The Chinese had a few fights in Vietnam before it was discovered by the French. Assorted war lords also proliferated throughout Africa, and sold slaves to the Arabs. Before the Boers and later the British shot the crap out of the Zulus, the Zulus had made a major mess of other African lives.The Mayans had slaves; the Aztecs ripped out hearts of those made captive in war.

No, it's not just us nasty Anglo-Europeans.


This an important article that directly addresses (yeah I said directly) the madness of our times. Compassion - what is it? How does it function? How does compassion arise? Why is compassion necessary for humans to thrive? Why allow capitalism and all the other isms to ignore and disallow the truly human characteristics that make us all better beings and happier people? Do we not experience compassion when we view the confusion humans choose and perpetrate? Compassion arises as we watch people seeking happiness while they run headlong into misery. Compassion and wisdom are two sides of the same coin. And that's the real currency of human life.


gee, i did not mean to imply that we should change conditions elsewhere. part of my philosophy says, "think globally; act locally."


Yes, we must start teaching non-violent conflict resolution. Peace literacy is what Koehler calls it. The situation in the train story is a perfect example. Thank you for sharing it. I look forward to reading more examples of people who embrace non-violent and compassionate action to solve conflicts. I am going to give more thought to the link between violence and courage. That certainly seems to be part of the culture in this country. Starting with grade school classes we study war and are introduced to war heroes. Let's start studying peace and teaching how to be peacemakers.