Discovering Life with Compassion and Rule of Law

Discovering Life with Compassion and Rule of Law

"Compassion is the sensitivity to another's suffering and the corresponding will to free the other from that suffering." Buddhist Teaching.

"Towards a just, secure and peaceful world governed by the rule of law."  UN Website on the Rule of Law

Let me begin by recalling the great scientist of the 20th century, Einstein's poignant statement:
"A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness, that separation. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion, to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

In the competitive world of today, it is still possible to see a swell of compassion or consideration toward others whenever there is a big tragedy like Haitian earthquake, Ethiopian famine or Sumatra's Tsunami or east Pacific Island volcano eruption followed by mud-flash flood. However, at an individual situation where we need to show compassion to help relieve someone's difficulty, the mind seems to operate in a different level of consciousness, and with a different software. We tend immediately to make our own rules, norms and parameters to compare, classify and justify how qualified the other individual situation is to be deserving our concern, cooperation, compassion and perhaps some help.

While there are indeed individuals who have a natural trait of empathy and compassion toward others in difficulty, the unpalatable truth is that in some critical situations the same trait allows itself to be controlled or managed by the play of our sense perceptions and preferences combined with innate habits of likes and dislikes and the ego demanding to know what is in it for me. Have you seen in the TV the open looting from the dilapidated shops and malls after the strong quake in Chile, a well to do nation in the Southern Hemisphere.

Many people today seem to think that money and the things it will buy is the measure of success. But, in truth, things we can buy are just things we can buy – no more, no less. They don't remake the real person in any way. We can change the color of our hair, our clothes style and the car we drive, but none of these are good indicators of the kind of person we are inside.

While it is possible to show and express empathy from a distance (feeling empathy while reading about a sad or tragic situation in a newspaper or watching the TV showing some calamity and human suffering in a distant place), but to be compassionate face-to-face seems not that simple. One has to discover a certain bigness in oneself. That bigness should be centered on oneself, not in terms of money, not in terms of power you wield, not in terms of things you can own, not in terms of any status that you can command in the society. But it should be centered on oneself and this is the self, you are self-aware. On that self, it should be centered that is capable of expanding and embracing all involved in the situation – a sense of the wholeness that can overtake you and the objects you are relating to. Otherwise, compassion will remain just a word and a beautiful dream. You can be compassionate occasionally, more often moved by empathy than by compassion.

Thank God we are quite empathetic. When we see an accident on the road or feel somebody's in physical or emotional pain, we are ready to pick up the pain and help do something to alleviate before we leave the scene. Thank God again; many of our State laws make it an offense to witness and leave the scene of accident without calling for emergency help.

One of the reasons we have rule of law and justice is probably to mitigate the human nature where it may be difficult to spontaneously expect dispassion, consideration and compassion in all circumstances. In the manifest world of transactional relationships, we often get so overwhelmed by self-interest and other ego factors as to forget our basic responsibilities in a given situation. We seem to be easily remembering and connecting to our "rights", but can equally easily downplay and simply overlook the "responsibilities" that go hand in hand in that situation.

Certainly, it calls for value based education, human intelligence and common sense that over time help develop the rule of law and justice to manage the matrix of the transactional relationships between human beings and also between humans and other forms of life and environment and keep them in a reasonably good working condition.

Though almost all countries on this planet have designed their own rules of law and justice systems, the credit should go to the UN for developing what one can call as the "mother of all laws" on this earth – that is: Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is one of the finest documents that codifies in simple language how we, as human communities and societies, should be dealing with the whole gamut of basic needs for human survival, growth and development of human beings on the planet, in a civilized and democratic framework that is not in conflict with the environment.

It is also sadly a well known fact that while the declaration is "universal", the application of this fundamental human frame-work of relationships still remains fragmented, "relative" and governed, more often substituted or subjugated, by such caveats as cultural diversities, traditional age old practices, the so called national or societal uniqueness, or some form of ideological bigotry. This is therefore a great challenge: how to make the UDHR truly universal, operational and an achievable reality for all?

"As a global organization mandated to address the most significant challenges facing humanity, it is critical that we harness technology to reach staff and our partners world-wide". These were the remarks of the UN Chef de Cabinet Mr. Vijay Nambiar, who opened on 17 November 2009, the United Nations Rule of Law Website and Document Repository designed to address the fact that, until now, the UN System has lacked common resources and databases on the rule of law that connect the various parts of the UN System and make the Organization's work and knowledge accessible to Member States, other partners and the public.

A key aspect of the rule of law website is its accessibility and utility for partners working in rule of law. Until now it has been difficult for practitioners outside the UN system to access information on best practices, lessons learned and the various tools developed on rule of law. There was also a clear absence of consolidated information on who is working on rule of law, and what they are doing. By providing an extensive list of and links to partner organizations, those involved in rule of law efforts can more easily connect and continue to build a strong global rule of law community.

For the UN to become a model of the rule of law, it must begin at home with a commitment to transparency and accountability as the two important strong arms of its internal justice system. It must be able to demonstrate that it can dismantle the strange disconnect between the so called "rulers" and "ruled" within its own hierarchical system of management. In one of the recent UNDT cases, this disconnect became very apparent even for readers of the judgment/order sitting on the other side of the globe. Despite repeated rulings by the Judge, the respondent's counsel has been unable to ascertain who is the real person who decided to withhold information from the Judge and who is emboldened to disobey the judge's order for personal appearance before the UNDT. I am sure the eminent judge in this case will probably continue to gracefully handle the situation and bring it to some kind of finality so that justice does not fail or suffer at the end.

As a student of social-anthropology, I find that such a situation is not uncommon in our world of unequal powers and privileges. For me it is a sign of defiance of human compassion toward another just because the other person is far away, at the receiving end and has little or no powers to seek to know the truth behind what has happened. It is not easy to say that everyone seeking "justice" is genuinely wronged or deprived of some rights. But he or she is more likely to be deprived of compassion of the "ruling" elite in failing or not attempting to understand the reasons or cause of any complaint in the first place.

There is no denying the fact that there are as many violations and criminal acts in this world as there are acts of denial of understanding, denial of compassion and consideration that could and would have helped to prevent the violations in the first place, or reduce the impact of such negative acts by becoming proactive in isolating the possible criminal acts or criminal mindsets within our work and relationship circles. Some of the school/college campus shoot-outs in the USA and Europe portrait this lack of public self-awareness, understanding and perhaps lack of empathy of the individual mindsets within the educational fraternity or community that became the victim itself, because of the missing link or disconnect of a sense of true compassion toward a developing situation crying for help.

The venerable London Economist talks about the "older and wiser" Germany; "for all its stolid reputation, it has become surprisingly flexible" and "it needs to keep working at it". The success will depend on the grace and compassion with which Germany accepts and absorbs the immigrant communities, and use their skills and talents.

Imagine the world from the other person's eyes. A hundred years of research on the mind-body connection in the West has proved that disease in the body begins with dis-ease in the mind – its inability to see the world from a broader perspective beyond the borders of self-interest. Thus, the loss of "ease" or peace in the mind begins with disharmony in our relations with others at home, at work, and in the market place of community. The bottom line is this: you can't have good physical and mental health and longevity unless you have harmonious mind, and you can't have that unless you have achieved harmony within yourself and with nature – the practice of feeling compassionate and showing empathy towards others will do the trick.

As the western schools of wellness programs advocate: try and persist faking to be compassionate and you will before long find yourself "compassionate" toward the world of others and conduct a healthy and useful lifestyle.

V. Muthuswami, Chennai, India.
Joint Appellant of the Common Cause Appeal # UNAT 2009-001.

The UN • Copyright © 2010 • All Rights Reserved

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Amelia Becker

I agree, thank God we are naturally empathetic. While empathy is still a selfishness, it's way better than "every man for himself." Compassion is the higher aspect of empathy, in a similar way to higher forms of forgiveness: 1) You hurt me and even though you did something terrible, I forgive you because I'm a big enough person. 2) I know I had a part in creating the situation in which you hurt me so I forgive you (and me). 3) There is no situation or hurt the way I have believed it to be and there is nothing to forgive.
So with compassion: 1) I see you suffering. I feel sorry for you and I'm glad it's not me. 2) I see you suffering. I empathize with you and feel how I would feel if I were in a similar situation. 3) I see you suffering. There is no situation the way I believe it to be, and since I know your needs are equal to mine, I will think and do all I can to assist you in relieving your suffering.