Karen Armstrong traces across Greek tragedy, Romantic poetry and all faiths the efforts to teach how humans can live with compassion for themselves and for others. She encourages the reader to learn about compassion across different cultures and then root their approach in the one with which they feel most comfortable and familiar - religious or not.
The theological Christian roots might be that we are all made in the image of God and therefore we live in a common humanity. Put more simply, as I smile gently at my weaknesses and recognise my disappointments, suffering and longing for love, I can remind myself that others around me are also on a similar path and therefore learn to treat people with more kindness and love.
Often pre-emptively blocked in our times by the evolutionary claim that "there is no such thing as altruism, we are always in it for ourselves", she argues that we can methodically train our minds and hearts to observe when our reptilian brains and egos are clamouring for our attention but not act upon them. Instead with a combination of meditation, 'making space for the other' to learn and and enter into our enemies' worlds imaginatively, and the steady practice of refraining from unkind words and practising kind ones, we can choose to live with compassion in our families, at our workplace, and in this country. And this can lead us into a world with more peace.
One of my small reflections upon reading this book is how all or nothing I am. I immediately wanted to take on all of the book's instructions. A bit like my bubbling enthusiasm for new year's resolutions which I sometimes manage to keep going until March whereupon I grumpily give up. Karen Armstrong reminds the reader that lasting change is gradual and encourages to take each step at a time in a rich lifelong project.