Mobilizing the Compassionate Supermajority: A Declaration for Global Transformation

By improving ourselves, our culture, and our institutions, we, the compassionate supermajority of the American people, can help the United States honor its highest ideals: political equality, human rights, popular rule, and, as affirmed in the Constitution, “to promote the general welfare.”

With this effort, we can help transform the world into a caring community dedicated to the common good of all humanity, ourselves, the environment, and life itself. In each nation, individuals and communities can pressure their leaders to cooperate with other nations on shared humanitarian concerns.

We can nurture mutual respect, moral commitment, and spiritual development. We can learn steadily how to set aside negative tendencies and do what we really want to do: be more compassionate. Rooted in powerful grassroots movements, we can overcome polarized gridlock by building new structures to give the supermajority a greater voice.

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In recent studies, two-thirds or more of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats, said elected officials lose touch with their constituents, don’t care “what people like me think,” put their own interests first, and fail to give Americans a voice. They said the wealthy have too much power and agreed that the amount of money individuals contribute to political campaigns should be limited.

A supermajority also supported federal government programs that would put people to work on urgent infrastructure repairs, create more than one million new jobs with a federal jobs creation law, and make Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid sound without cutting benefits.

They did not believe military strength is the best way to ensure peace, and wanted to reduce military spending and stop giving money to foreign countries to buy military weapons from U.S. companies.

They preferred to reduce the number of people behind bars and increase funding for the treatment of mental illness and addiction, and agreed that drug addicts and those with mental illness should not be in prison. They did not consider immigrants a burden, nor did they want to discourage homosexuality.

They agreed that global warming is real, carbon dioxide is a pollutant that needs to be reduced, and the U.S. should reduce global warming even if it has economic costs. They supported a carbon tax on fossil fuels for research and development of renewable energy.

A 2018 study found that two-thirds or more of the American people consider racism, racist acts, and hate speech to be a serious problem, have generally warm feelings toward racial groups other than their own, and say sexism is a serious problem.

They affirm fairness and helping those in need, oppose cheating and harming the vulnerable, say countries including America should give refuge to people who are escaping from war or persecution, and support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children.

They say they believe in God and respect people with different religious beliefs, who they considered to be just as moral and loyal to America as anyone else. They don’t consider Islam to be more violent, and believe terrorists falsely use their religion to justify their actions.

They report following current events, believe most Americans have more in common than what divides them, are tired of polarized division, and want people to listen more so they could better see the many sides of an issue and compromise to solve problems.

Opinions shift from time to time. Many people hold contradictory thoughts. But those supermajorities indicate great potential for finding solid common ground.

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Most Americans don’t like the selfishness that permeates our society. We recognize negative tendencies within ourselves, know we’re not perfect, and want to be better. We know the problems we face are not only external; they are also internal. We want to nurture social and personal change. Both are essential. They reinforce each other.

In families, friendships, workplaces, community organizations, and religious communities, we can learn better how to exercise power with others in respectful partnerships. We can grow supportive communities whose members listen closely and speak openly about meaningful matters, rather than reduce each other to instruments to be used for personal gain.

An alliance that rises above the “blue/red” divide -- a “purple” alliance that backs proposals supported by a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents -- can help us overcome selfishness, build a new sense of national identity, and persuade Washington to respect the will of the people.

Rather than blaming an “enemy,” this alliance can reduce scapegoating, overcome divisions, set aside rigid ideologies, and work with others who support the same concrete improvements in public policy, even if they differ on other issues. We can push both parties to support measures backed by majorities of each party, while pursuing its own principles on other issues.

Voting is important, but not sufficient. We can’t rely on elected officials or political parties. Even more, we can’t rely on a charismatic Savior, such as Obama or Trump. Independent grassroots groups must hold politicians accountable to their promises. Action inside and outside the political system are both essential.

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By embracing both/and thinking, we can honor the sacred and the secular, the spiritual and the material, the invisible and the visible. We can love ourselves and others, avoid selfishness and self-sacrifice, cultivate self-respect and respect for others. We can improve ourselves and society, enjoy solitude and community, listen and talk in heartfelt dialogues, work alone and get help, uphold individual accomplishment and productive partnerships.

We can celebrate our individual identity and our common humanity, understand those who are like us and those who differ, embrace how each individual is unique and what we have in common, affirm the equal value of every person and certain inequalities.

We can uphold noble traditions and establish new principles, endorse legitimate authority and justified rebellion, support making a profit and serving the public interest, competition and cooperation, jobs and the environment.

We can assure the opportunity to make ends meet and call for individual responsibility, make society more democratic and acknowledge the need for leadership, support our political party and bipartisan joint action, build a strong nation and cultivate alliances with others.

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With proactive popular power, the American people can counter selfishness and blind ambition, create a caring economy, address ignored needs, and assure everyone the opportunity to live a good life -- moral, dignified, productive lives rooted in happiness, creativity, and lifelong learning.

With compassionate action, we can reverse global warming and take care of the environment. We can assure that the economic lives of white people and people of color are roughly equal, racist police do not use excessive force, all schools are high quality and teach empathy, affordable housing and health care is available to all, elderly people are not confined in oppressive nursing homes, and arts and cultural programs are widely available. And we can help highly troubled countries deal with their hardships, which will reduce the pressure on their people to migrate because most people prefer to stay in their homeland.

With increased compassion and greater self-understanding, we can learn to acknowledge, control, and undo unconscious bias -- such as bias against people of color, women, the less educated, the poor, the disabled, those who are less “attractive,” the elderly, those without typical gender traits, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals, those who are overweight, and those who live in a different region of the country. And we can undo outright racism, sexism, and other beliefs about certain groups being inherently inferior. We can learn to follow our higher angels, knowing the more others thrive, the more we thrive. Even if the wealthy are forced to pay higher taxes for the common good, they will still prosper, benefit from living in a more harmonious society, and, with the right attitude, be spiritually uplifted.

Grassroots organizations can increase their effectiveness by being truly democratic, giving members a real voice, being open and transparent, providing a framework of principles while allowing teams to design their own actions, and nurturing supportive communities that encourage members to work on their self-development.

Individuals can work on themselves alone and with some or all of the following: husbands, wives, domestic partners, close friends, teachers, mentors, advisers, counselors, therapists, and small groups of trusted allies who agree to regularly, confidentially, report to one another about their self-development efforts.

We can pursue truth, remember to love the Universe, let go of sort-term zero-sum (win/lose) thinking and embrace long-term positive-sum (win/win) thinking, and set aside rigid ideology, dogma, doctrine, the worship of words.

We can make compassion a way of life, embrace beauty, inspire each other, help each other, listen to each other, learn from each other, spread contagious happiness, and treat others as we would want to be treated.

We can grow powerful grassroots movements rooted in love and nonviolence, fight for justice, channel anger constructively, focus on changing what we can to improve the quality of life, make our nation more compassionate, never give up hope if there’s reason for hope, do our best without knowing the outcome, steadily push for improved national policies, challenge undemocratic concentration of power throughout society, pursue our nation’s highest ideals, and help nations stand strong against powerful corporate and financial forces that maximize profit regardless of consequences.

We can go beyond the old form of leadership that defines a leader as one who mobilizes others to do what the leader wants and embrace a new form of leadership that defines a leader as one who helps a team solve problems, with any one person able to exercise leadership by suggesting a step forward that makes sense.

We can develop workplaces that empower workers, schools that empower all stakeholders, social service agencies that empower clients, doctors who empower patients, families that empower children, organizations that empower their members, parents who empower their children, as well as friends, wives, and husbands who empower each other.

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One-third of Americans fall into either the “left wing” or “right wing” of the political spectrum. These tribes differ from the majority in key respects and share certain characteristics. They’re relatively wealthy, white, well educated, secure, and politically active. They’re more likely to gain meaning from how they label themselves, and vote and think the same way as other members of their tribe. They’re motivated by fear and fierce anger, and often take offense. They consider all or most members of the opposing tribe immoral and hold contempt for their opinions. They’re less open to compromise and justify almost any tactic to crush their enemy. Each tribe is more openly cold toward the opposite tribe than they are toward groups based on race, religion, age, or gender.

This tribalism results in widespread social pressure to conform to their tribe’s thinking, denies their enemies their humanity, makes conversations harder, and contributes to America’s deep polarization.

Most Americans believe political correctness has gone too far and many individuals are too sensitive about racial matters. They feel true believers don’t communicate well with people who disagree, but rather try to shove their opinions down the throats of those who don’t agree.

Rigid ideology reflected by both tribes restricts compassion and amplifies rage.

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Based on selfish ambition, our social system, the System, integrates our institutions, our culture, and ourselves. As individuals, we help to perpetuate the System. We learn to climb social ladders, worship or resent those who are higher, and disrespect and dominate those who are lower. Social pressures and deep-seated conditioning make it more difficult to be truly compassionate, as the System cultivates assumptions of moral superiority, including with those who aim to help the less fortunate.

Gaining great wealth is the dream. Getting ahead of others is central and becomes a habit. In this overly competitive Jackpot Society with its Casino Economy, winning is everything -- in business, sports, politics, and elsewhere.

Most of us are torn. We’d like to be more true to our compassionate nature. But the System inflames our negative instincts and suppresses positive ones.

We justify selfishness, make harsh judgments, throw labels at each other, call each other names, and resort to gross generalizations. Demonizing is commonplace. Beating the enemy becomes all consuming. Winners believe they deserve what they have and blame losers for losing. Most Americans believe people who work hard can find success no matter what situation they were born into.

The System attracts power-hungry politicians, strokes their egos, seduces them with the hope of higher office, and corrupts them with financial rewards. As they focus on the next election, they fatten their wallets. Even after winning the top prize, presidents become too concerned about their legacy.

In recent years, the left and right wings have learned to use Democratic and Republican primary and caucus elections to build their power. Since those elections attract relatively few voters, disciplined minorities can use them to defeat candidates in their own party who don’t back the correct dogma. This leverage multiples each tribe’s influence.

Televised debates attract viewers by featuring heated arguments between representatives of the more extreme left and right wings. Those “cross-fire” debates reinforce the polarization into tribes whose members identify fervently with their political party. The loyal base of each party supports their leaders regardless of the policies they choose to pursue.

We’ve gone beyond political partisanship that allows for compromise to a dogmatic tribalism that aims to overwhelm opponents -- even though how Congress is structured makes prolonged domination by either party unlikely. Nevertheless, political parties use superficial tactics to gain or keep control of Congress with narrow, unstable majorities.

By taking sides in conflicts between other countries when there’s no good reason to do so, elected leaders rally the nation behind the flag and shore up their own power by making enemies out of other countries. Having an external enemy diverts attention from domestic problems.

The news media makes money by inflaming divisions and helping to manufacture crises with feeding frenzies. Social media profit from eye-catching, incendiary posts and outrageous, microtargeted ads that promote division, oppression, and racism. Organizations on the left and the right intensify fear and anger, which results in demonizing hate that attracts support from some but drives away potential supporters.

Individuals and organizations that abuse power, especially the System’s top-level administrators, need to be held accountable for their actions. But no one is totally responsible. The System is self-perpetuating; administrators are easily replaced. All of us share responsibility; the System is us.

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If we channel anger with compassion, deepen empathy, understand opponents’ motivations, appreciate the “grain of truth” in positions with which we disagree, trust our potential to unite, and seek reconciliation, we can stop reproducing the System.

Ideally, one of our political parties will decide to encourage their members to support each other in their self-development -- with each individual setting their own goals. A truly democratic political party whose members grow face-to-face community and fight for its platform year-round could help establish new structures throughout society to nurture partnership.

Regardless, people power will be essential. Step by step, grassroots movements can unite for focused, national political action rooted in communities whose members support one another in their efforts to undo divisive conditioning. With that approach, we can overcome the systematic domination that permeates our entire society.

We can change whole persons, the whole society, and the whole world -- holistic change. We can change individual character and the structures and outward appearance of our society -- transformative change. We can change our social system that integrates our institutions, our culture, and ourselves -- systemic change.

Activists who hold minority opinions have an important role to play. They can highlight important issues, build pressure for change, and over time build majority support for their positions. Some issues, such as the death penalty, are either/or.

But most issues are more complicated and open to compromise. By backing positive reforms that have widespread support, supermajorities can win victories, build momentum, and open new possibilities. With evolutionary revolution, we can grow a transform-the-world movement rooted in compassion that nurtures personal, social, cultural, and political transformation -- holistic, global, systemic transformation -- with the overwhelming majority of people in most nations united.

We can enable everyone to be all they can be, enjoy life, live in harmony with nature, and form productive, creative partnerships -- while respecting legitimate authority, noble traditions, stability, and family ties -- until the world looks like a new world, people feel and act like new people, and Mother Earth no longer screams in agony.

Why not try? Life as we know it is in danger. What choice do we have? Piecemeal solutions are not adequate. Instead we can nurture compassion one person at a time, one group at a time, one organization at a time, one nation at a time -- until compassion spreads like a virus.

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NOTES:

  1. This draft declaration presents a worldview -- norms, values, and principles -- that could become the basis for open, participatory, peer-driven action. Like-minded people are welcome to rewrite this draft (or start from scratch with a similar statement) and take next steps.

  2. Sources for public opinion data:

  3. A reading of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas prompted the portions in bold, which were added after the first three comments were received. I informed those individuals of those changes.