Open to Imperfection

Yesterday I was reflecting on how scepticism – the type based on keeping an open mind – was really about allowing ourselves to vulnerable.

When I started this study, one of the first sources to revisit was Brené Brown’s talk from TEDxHouston in 2010. There are so many insights that resonate for me in her talk, and must resonate for others – 7.6 million views – if you haven’t watched it, watch now.

What strikes me as relevant to scepticism are her comments on the mindset we bring to research. As a researcher she felt her role in studying phenomena was to control and predict, control and predict. And yet the power of inquiry comes from being open not closed. Open to new discoveries, open to the imperfections.

Revisiting her talk emphasises the singular importance of connection. Connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. She notes that people who feel worthy of connection have a strong sense of love and belonging – described as whole-hearted lives. They have the courage to tell the story of who they are with their whole heart, the courage to be imperfect. They connect because they are able to let go of who they think they should be and be seen for who they are. And they get that the practice of compassion first requires us to be kind to ourselves.

That a practice of compassions requires us first to be kind to ourselves is discussed in Karen Armstrong’s book also and something I’ll come back to.

But the other traits of whole-heartedness? The courage to be imperfect? To let myself be seen for not who I should be, but who I am? This is awkward. I thought in some ways I’d managed this, but it seems as though in trying to do this I swap one set of assumptions and identity for another. It’s that ungraspable truth that in trying to reach it, you push it further away*.

[Day 29 – Listening]

*Dog bites basketball, Chasing a greasy pig and Trying to catch vapour, Pushing opposing magnets – These were the best my Twitter plea elicited to describe this feeling. That I think there is a common way express this, and that’s it’s sitting out of reach in the back of my head, and yet the more I think about it the further away the word slips is unhelpful but wryly funny.


iO Tillett Wright at TEDxWomen

Visibility is key. Familiarity is the gateway drug to empathy.

By taking photographs of the faces of people who were not 100% straight, sparking empathy became the backbone to iO Tillet’s Wright’s project Self-Evident Truths.  Human beings are not one-dimensional, overly small boxes to categorise each other are useless. Appreciating each other’s complexity is valuable. And we do that by really seeing each other, by getting to know the stranger.

Seeing them makes it harder to deny our humanity. At the very least I hope it makes it harder to deny their human rights.

[Day 21: Listening]

Hat tip to Stephen Collins and Anneka Deva.

The Charter for Compassion

In exploring the first chapter of Karen Armstong’s book, “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life”, her advice is to register with The Charter for Compassion. The Charter is written in full in more than 30 languages, or you can view it here:


You can add your name to the Charter to amplify the call for a more compassionate world, and also to receive updates about the Charter’s progress in the world. I didn’t at the time, wanting to read more about the process, to think for myself, and to reflect on the way I instinctually responded to the words. My reaction to “morality and religion”, “ancient principles”, “luminous, dynamic” wasn’t necessarily positive and I’d not given much thought to formal religion since rejecting it as part of my identity in secondary school. And then it was forgotten. But I’ve been reading and re-reading this Charter or several hours now and there’s nothing I can’t wish for.

Is it too late? Signed.

[Day 5: Action]

Steps to Compassion

“Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other, and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems.” [Charter for Compassion website]

Armstrong, K "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life"

As a bonus of attending TEDActive in 2011, I was enrolled in the TED Book Club. One of the first books I received (from memory) was Karen Armstrong’s “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life“. I’ve started reading it before, started and stopped at the history of the formulation of the Golden Rule*, page 9 of the Preface.  It depresses me to think I hadn’t even made it to Step 1 – Learn About Compassion.

Armstrong was the recipient of the TED Prize in 2008, and this books explains the creation of The Charter for Compassion and how to turn it into personal action. Developing the Charter included seeking contributions from people across the world, from perspectives both religious and secular, in order to develop a charter to restore compassionate thinking and action.

I have started reading it again, and it’s helping to articulate my questions: is compassion innate or constructed, how do different religions inform and shape views of compassion and how might I use her writing as a blueprint for my own actions.

[Day 4: Researching the foundations]

*Golden Rule: Treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Or as listed within the scriptures of many religions.

Ten minutes of nothing

Lynne Malcolm: In relation to the research centre you talk about how you might introduce interventions to increase compassion, to allow people to be more compassionate. How do you do that in a scientific way?

James Doty: Well the preliminary science shows a couple of things. One is that with even an intervention which is a compassion meditation practice as short as two weeks, it can have a significant effect on the levels of stress hormones and also on your immune system.

ABC Radio National, All in the Mind: The Science of Compassion, Sunday 9th December 2012.

A desk in a noisy room, repetitive conversations, untidy rooms, deadlines, the click-click-click of social media, waiting for approvals, underlying worry about people I love. I know these things contribute to stress, and I know that when stressed I find the shortening pause between an action and my (often frustrated) reaction signals a lack of compassion.

Can meditation aid compassion? The quote above from the interview I listened to yesterday, as well as this clear and visual TED talk by Andy Puddicombe  makes it clear that meditation can reduce stresses and help us to observe more clearly our reactions before we act.

Puddicombe’s talk was featured by TED this morning, accompanied by a blog post also describing recent the scientific support for meditation benefits.  I’ve always struggled to set up an effective mediation practice, first taking a course in Transcendental Meditation in Year 11, only to set it as one of my New Year’s Resolutions again and again and have it evaporate by February. But 10 minutes of doing nothing each day? Perhaps that’s achievable?

[Day 2: Practice]