Editor's Note: Compassion as the Basis of Morality

Compassion is a virtue and a state of consciousness, an attitude toward other people, that human beings experience spontaneously and that they can intentionally cultivate in themselves.

Compassion is the rational, sensible basis for ethical behavior, the Golden Rule of Jesus: Treat others as you'd want to be treated.

Compassion is also the basis of a mystical perception of what human beings are: all aspects of the same central Self. Not only can we identify with other people in, say, considering the Golden Rule, we can sometimes actually feel what it's like to be them. The experience of compassion can inspire us to risk our own lives and security to assist another in obvious peril.

Compassion as the basis of morality is curiously at odds with so-called "family values." Parents with children often cannot afford to be moved by compassion; they have to be moved by responsibility instead. A person who has a child can't risk his or her life to save a stranger. Parents can't give money away "recklessly." They can't afford to let political or ecological correctness drive their lifestyle. A father employed in the defense industry, for instance, can't quit his job just because he is inspired with compassion for the suffering caused by war; he has mouths to feed . People with responsibilities for the next generation can't afford to worry about people in Third World countries. (This is at least in part why Christian conservatives are compelled to oppose global ecological programs, like reducing greenhouse gases, even though preserving the health of the planet seems like a very "conservative" thing to do.)

Family values appropriately calls for economical good sense and responsibility. It protects and defends the nuclear family. But consequently blinds people to the big picture.

Muslims and Orthodox Christians in the war-torn Balkans compete with one another for a better future for their own children. And their concern results in the atrocities of ethnic cleansing and terrorism. Because they miss the bigger picture. They are trapped in the trivial link of genetic lineage and religion--the issues of family values. They don't see that they're ruining their lives and other peoples because of misplaced loyalties. From the perspective of the planet, millions of years old, what difference does it make which variation of the gene pool dominates Yugoslavia or even the "holy city" of Jerusalem--all insignificant grains of sand in the hourglass of cosmic time!

The experience of compassion reminds us that we are not really these individual grains. Rather we are, each and all, the whole process of time. We're all part of the single Being of planet Earth. This is a central message of mystical religion: the theme, for instance, of the Bodhisattva tradition of Mahayana Buddhism that runs through the pages of White Crane Journal.

Gay people, as gay (which for most of us means not having children) possess the freedom from parental responsibilities to bear witness to the big picture. Our contest with the family values advocates shouldn't be over such issues as the right to wear exhibitionistic leather costumes on Gay Pride floats or to have sex in park bathrooms or even to have marriage ceremonies performed by priests and ministers in good graces with their churches--though these are often the issues of the contest.

The issue is transforming the notion of morality and virtuous behavior in human consciousness, waking people up to the big picture.

The challenge to us is to demonstrate concern for the planet--for the big picture--and for fellow suffering human beings, to remind the human race that it is more important to make the world better for all children than just for your own children.

We demonstrate that you don't have to have children to live a good life. Indeed we demonstrate that you can sometimes lead a better life, a more contributing, a more beautiful and adventurous life without the constraints of "family values."

What is at issue here is the basis of ethics and morality.

Compassion, lovingkindness, joy in the joy of others, and equanimity--what the Buddhists call the Four Immeasurables--should guide human life not righteousness, purity, making other people wrong, and concern about genetic lineage.


On a personal note, let me tell you that White Crane is moving again. Kip and I are going back to Texas. Filial responsibilities are calling us to be nearer to home. We've bought a wonderful Santa Fe-style house high on the ridge of a bluff above the Blanco River Valley in the Texas Hill Country overlooking the little gay-popular artist colony/river resort town of Wimberley. We'll be continuing the B&B operation. Please come visit. (Note WCJ's change of address.)

My book, Gay Spirituality: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness, will be released by Alyson Publications in July. I'll be doing some booksignings around the country. I hope White Crane readers will come by to say hello.


The next issue will feature articles on Solitude. Contributions are invited. The word has two slightly differing, maybe even contradictory, connotations. Solitude is aloneness, solitariness--a state many gay men find themselves in, intentionally or not--and, therefore, sometimes loneliness. Solitude is also peace of mind, simple enjoyment of consciousness. Perhaps the second is the antidote to the undesirable manifestations of the first.