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Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life Paperback – December 27, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
The prolific, well-informed, and passionate Armstrong (The Case for God) writes a somewhat different book this time out, stemming from her winning a ,000 prize in 2007 to promote an idea worth spreading. She always has a thesis in her books as she sweeps over the historical development of world religions, but this is a book with an agenda: you ought to be more compassionate, and here™s how. So instead of being her usual somewhat academic teacher of religious history, she is more of a personal spiritual teacher, in the vein of the Dalai Lama. That task, and corresponding tone (œBe patient with yourself during this meditation), is not her long suit. Still, this slightly self-help-y book is deeply grounded in what Armstrong knows, and presents, well: the core teachings of all religions that can make us better, more compassionate humans. The former nun pulls ideas and references from religions Eastern and Western with aplomb and respect for all sources. This counter to the religion-is-homicidal-and-superstitious school of invective passing for thought is well-informed, welcome, and practical. (Jan.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* It takes courage for a religious historian and writer of Armstrong’s stature to step out from behind the scrim of scholarship and analysis to offer guidelines for a spiritual practice designed to make humanity a kinder and saner species. With the boon of the prestigious TED Prize, Armstrong (The Case for God, 2009) worked with “leading thinkers from a variety of major faiths” to compose a Charter for Compassion, which calls for the restoration of “compassion to the heart of religious and moral life” in a “dangerously polarized” world. Not content with merely stating lofty goals, however, Armstrong, a revered genius of elucidation and synthesis, now tells the full and profound story of altruism throughout human history. She turns to neuroscience and tracks the evolution of our brains and our natural capacity for empathy, and performs her signature mode of beautifully clarifying interpretation in a mind-expanding discussion of the history of the Golden Rule (“Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself”), the essence of compassion and the kernel of every religious tradition. Exquisite and affecting explications of Buddhist, Confucian, Judaic, Christian, and Islamic commentary prepare the ground for meditation exercises meant to engender “open-mindedness” and the cultivation of compassion, making for the most sagacious and far-reaching 12-step program ever. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A hefty print run is planned for renowned religious thinker Armstrong’s bold approach to teaching the compassionate ethos. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Armstrong starts with an overview of compassion as discussed in various religious writings from around the world and then shows twelve ways to incorporate the practice of compassion into life. She likens her book to the twelve steps of recovery, in that one should be familiar with all of the steps and then go back to step one as a starting place. Each step builds on the one previously as Armstrong demonstrates that even thinking differently about those we love is a beginning. She builds through thinking, speaking and acting differently toward those to whom we feel indifference or even active dislike.
At no point does Armstrong equate compassion to pity, because the two are not the same. Instead, she shows how compassion can be considered as simple kindness in thought, word and act. Nor does Armstrong suggest that this will automatically make you like someone whose actions disgust or disturb you, but instead she points out that it is possible to see where your "enemy" (for lack of a better term) has come from to reach the point where they are.
I enjoyed the book and have found myself re-examining some of my own viewpoints as a result of the reading. Highly recommended for those with a somewhat philosophical bent.
(Review based on uncorrected advance proof.)
Known primarily as a scholar of religious history, Armstrong incorporates evolutionary science in her first step Learn About Compassion to support her position that compassion is wired in the brain as much as the 4 Fs--Food, Fight, Flight, and reproduction--are. Armstrong builds upon "the two brains" concept throughout the remaining eleven steps as a way to gauge our own progress toward a compassionate life but also to ground our thoughts, behaviors, and failings in scientific fact. Bringing evolution into the religious arena may be too much for some to swallow; however, Armstrong is fair-minded when recommending that we review our own faith tradition as we progress through the twelve steps.
The other eleven steps--Look at Your Own World, Compassion for Yourself, Empathy, Mindfulness, Action, How Little We Know, How Should We Speak to One Another?, Concern for Everybody, Knowledge, Recognition, and Love Your Enemies--are organized from examining ourselves, to learning how to be compassionate with people around us, to enacting compassion in the world. There is a predictable pattern to each chapter. Armstrong provides an anecdote that demonstrates the step, follows it up with examples of how spiritual leaders of the past have approached it, and then ends with related questions and advice for us to accomplish the step.
A skeptic may look upon these as nothing more than failed idealistic virtues, but, as Armstrong points out, becoming compassionate takes rigorous work up until our final moments of life. In other words, as the twelve steps for an alcoholic can be demanding, so too are these twelve. If we are truly committed to living a compassionate life, then we must be willing to dedicate ourselves the same way the sages of the Axial did during violent and destructive times.
I will not do an exhaustive review of each step because that would take too long and would be a mistake on my part for attempting to impose myself on your interior space. However, the eighth step How Should We Speak to One Another? and the tenth step Knowledge speak volumes about the polarization we now encounter in the world around us. One unfortunate trend today is the attack and counterattack model, where, for example, "experts" appear on popular cable channels not only to present their position but to annihilate and humiliate the opposing viewpoint.
Instead of resolving anything, all that is stirred is our emotions, and, as a result, we watch the next episode hoping to hear how the expert from "our side" will belittle the opponent. If we truly want ourselves, our country, and our world to live according to the Golden Rule, this type of rancorous speech must end. What should that mean for us? According to Armstrong, a compassionate person must admit that we do not know everything (in fact, very little) and that we must be willing to listen to our enemies with an open mind and heart. Unfortunately, we are so used to fighting our opponents and then fleeing to a channel that supports our views that we never cross over into a realm of possibility.
A little over two hundred pages, Twelve Steps is probably one of Armstrong's shortest books, but because it is, I will return to it periodically as I work through each step. If you read this book in a day or two and then shelve it, then likely you've missed the point. This is a book calling all of us to action, and if you believe in a more compassionate world, then this book is a great resource for you to begin that important journey.
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