Distinguishing the Action from the Actor

I had a moment of “world’s colliding” this afternoon when I sat down to catch up on some reading I started quite a while ago. The passage is worth repeating, so I thought I’d include it and then get back to the “world’s colliding” part.

The important point about the principle of compassion, as a basis for the exercise of justice, is that it is directed not toward actions, but toward the actor. Compassion demands that we condemn wrong actions and oppose them with all means necessary, while at the same time forgiving and maintaining an attitude of kindness toward the perpetrators of those actions. Just as, in theistic terms, God forbids sin while still loving the sinner, so we too should forcefully oppose wrong while maintaining concern for the wrongdoer. It is right to do this because, again, all human beings are capable of change. I think we all know this is from our own experience. After all, it is not uncommon for those who lead reckless lives when young to become responsible and caring as they gain in maturity and experience. In history, too, there are many examples of individuals whose early lives were morally reprehensible, but who later brought great benefit to others. We might think of Emperor Ashoka, for example, or Saint Paul, or numerous others. (p. 64-5)

I’ve been reading this (off and on) since at least April and there have been some really good passages, which is probably to the surprise of no one. I found this passage particularly important because of how the Dalai Lama uses religion to help build the bridge for his audience from what he’s talking about to their way of understanding the world.

Now, to the part about “world’s colliding.” I’ve mentioned before that I’m working at this summer, but before beginning with this organization, I had no idea who/what Ashoka [the person] was. Ironically, this summer I’m taking an elective in social entrepreneurship and one of our required texts is ‘s . The ironic part is that this book is often used to help explain what it is that Ashoka (the organization) does. [Brief aside: Although, with the recent publication of , many turn to it (Rippling) as it has an updated understanding of the mission of Ashoka (the organization).]

The point about Bornstein’s book is that he sits down with Ashoka’s founder (Bill Drayton) and speaks with him about how he came to found the organization. One of the questions posed/answered is how/why Drayton came to call the organization Ashoka. So of course, the reader then learns a bit about who Ashoka (the Emperor) is and a bit about Bill Drayton’s thinking. So while I didn’t know who Ashoka (the Emperor) was when I started reading the Dalai Lama’s book (or when I started working for Ashoka the organization), I have come across Ashoka (the Emperor) in a number of places. One of the other places comes from in world history: Week #6 was about .


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