Select one of the keywords
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life    by Karen Armstrong order for
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life
by Karen Armstrong
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Crowley

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life begins with a wish for a better world. Karen Armstrong's book blames the problems plaguing modern society on a lack of compassion. The author takes great care when defining the world compassion. This is not a book about pity, but about living according to The Golden Rule: 'Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you.'

Armstrong draws on neurology, mythology, philosophy, and ancient and modern religions to prove that compassion is an innate emotion in human beings. The author argues against those who believe that all human beings are selfish by nature. Instead, this book is based on a theory that negative emotions stem from a physical aspect of the human brain that helped our primitive ancestors survive.

The author blames the suffering in today's world - including homelessness, war, greed, and violence - on a small part of our reptilian brain. Combined with our tendency to rationalize anger as self defense, this part of our anatomy is responsible for the confrontational manner in which we deal with negative emotions and experiences. Armstrong makes excellent points when attempting to show our initial reactions to anger or threats are simply remnants of our primitive past.

This book provides practical steps to overcoming this tendency to resort back to our reptilian brain. The core of the steps to living a compassionate life is living according to The Golden Rule. Karen Armstrong urges readers to recognize negative emotions are coming from this part of our anatomy which is no longer necessary for survival. She advises to confront negative emotions and soothe them with compassion for the self, since feelings such as rage and resentment result from a blow to the ego.

The twelve steps ask readers to attempt to identify with people or situations who bring out negative emotions in us. The author challenges readers to educate themselves on people who are considered enemies. If we put ego aside and attempt to view the person or the situation from their point of view, we will see their negativity is usually based on their own suffering, which can only be helped by compassion.

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life is a book that was long overdue in a world focused on ego. I was impressed by the accuracy and strength of the author's arguments, which are based on everything from human anatomy to ancient philosophy. This is a book that will strike a chord with anyone believes one person truly can make a difference. Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life is an essential companion for people who wish to break free from today's aloof society in which people tend to view suffering from a distance and live solely to gratify the ego.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more NonFiction books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews