From Compassion to Action

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Two days ago, I met renowned Stanford professor and women’s rights activist Anne Murray at the Ghandi ashram in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

Professor Murray , author of “From Courage to Outrage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice” (which you will like if you read and liked Nicolas Kristoff’s “Half the Sky”) teaches a popular international women’s health and human rights class twice a year at Stanford University. Indeed, her class is so popular, students go through an application process to get in (about 30% get in). As a result, the Stanford administration asked her to teach an additional class along the same lines, but she had a different idea in mind.

She described feeling disturbed and defeated in hearing about the atrocities and violence against women around the globe. She felt compelled to learn about nonviolence and compassion, which lead her to form a partnership with an organization located in the Ghandi ashram called Manav Sahdana. Inspired by Gandhi’s teachings on non-violence (which he equated with universal human values of love and compassion), she delved deeper into other forms of thought, including Thich Nat Hanh’s book “True Love,” which she explained totally revolutionized her thoughts.

She therefore requested to teach a class on “Love as a Force for Social Justice.” The Stanford administration agreed. And for the last ten years, the class gained immense popularity among students, a wonderful compliment to her class on international women’s rights.

Hearing Professor Murray speak reminded me of my experiences in Ajmer a few weeks back.

When hearing the stories and hardships of Anchal’s artisans, it was hard not to get bogged down. Just like Professor Murray, I had a heavy feeling in my chest. At first I thought it was only sadness, but I soon realized that on a deeper level, it was compassion. When spending time with the artisans, and communicating through eye glances and laughter (see former posts), I felt happy and alive. And let’s face it, I felt love. This is truly a great community of women, who gather to stitch, eat, and commute home together. There was a strong sense of sharing and belongingness. By being immersed in this environment, I recognized sadness as compassion. Since then, their realities have stayed with me and inspired me to move into action.

I guess what I learned is from sadness, comes depression and often an inability to act. But from compassion, comes energy and action.
Have you ever been moved to act or help by compassion? Share your stories here.

-Maria

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