Why We Need a Muscular Compassion

The following is an excerpt from Daniel Goleman's new book, A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama's Vision for Our World.

When the Dalai Lama met President Nelson Mandela soon after apartheid ended, he was deeply impressed by Mandela's lack of resentment toward those who had put him in prison for so long. In that same spirit, South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by the Dalai Lama's old friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu, heard thousands of confessions about atrocities of every kind from the days of apartheid and the struggle against it.

In only some of the crimes so revealed was the perpetrator granted amnesty. But there is no doubt the proceedings prevented a wave of vengeance-driven violence. Mandela's efforts to see that there was no personal revenge against the minority whites who had ruled (or against those who fought against them) was a major force in healing deep social rifts.

When it comes to conflicts or oppression like that under apartheid, "The wounds are everywhere," the Dalai Lama says. That's why a process like the commission is "very, very necessary, and very effective for healing."

The full disclosure of crimes on both sides -- abuses by those imposing apartheid and atrocities by those rebelling against it -- represents a model of transparency he admires.

He strongly advocates such openness in holding officials of every kind accountable for their misdeeds. This may sound ho-hum to many ears, but the driving force for his view caught me off guard: compassion.

The Dalai Lama's version of compassion is more muscular than Sunday-school stereotypes of a benign but soft and flabby kindness. He sees such full disclosure as one application of compassion in the public sphere, as is forceful action to right injustice of every kind.

His instincts are somewhat akin to those of the crusading author Upton Sinclair, as well as to the deliberate moves against corruption and collusion by Pope Francis. He calls for moral responsibility in all spheres of public life. There's "dirty politics, dirty business, dirty religion, dirty science," the Dalai Lama says, wherever serious ethical lapses occur.

This distaste for injustice, coupled with taking initiative to expose and reform corrupt systems--be they the misdeeds of banks or corporations, politicians or religious officials--is the singular application of compassion I least expected in the Dalai Lama's vision.

We talked about three principles that exemplify such compassion in action: "fairness" (with everyone treated the same), which depends on "transparency" (being honest and open), and "accountability" (being answerable for misdeeds).

Lacking any force to oppose it, corruption or injustice will continue.

But we can only remedy what we know about. Still, transparency about unfairness will not do it alone: We also need accountability. The two are interactive. There is no accountability without transparency; transparency without accountability is toothless.

From A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama's Vision for Our World. Copyright 2015. Daniel Goleman. Reprinted with permission from Penquin Random House.

The audiobook for A Force for Good is available from More Than Sound.

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