Does Compassion Need to Evolve?

I introduce the issue of compassion needing to evolve to embrace the larger causes of human suffering and degradation of nature in the short article “Does Compassion Need to Evolve” on the Co-Intelligence Institute website at

I address this critical issue in much more detail in “Caring and Systemic Awareness: Does Compassion Itself Need to Evolve?” which is Chapter 20 of my book REFLECTIONS ON EVOLUTIONARY ACTIVISM: ESSAYS POEMS AND PRAYERS FROM AN EMERGING FIELD OF SACRED SOCIAL CHANGE which can be downloaded in its entirety as a free pdf from (or purchased hard copy from the same site or Amazon). (In a sense, the entire book can be viewed as an expansion of that chapter.)

I believe that this is a vital stage in the evolution of humanity and its religions, given that most human suffering is now caused not by accidents of nature or even individual cruelty and violence, but as side effects of the ways we have organized our social systems (especially political, government and economics systems), the cultural stories we tell ourselves and each other (largely shaped by modern scientific PR), and the scientific knowledge and technologies we have created (and are on the edge of creating), often for benign or even compassionate reasons.

Our deeply engrained, well-evolved heart-to-heart responsiveness — the compassion widely advocated by major religions — is still central for people to feel cared for and for care-givers to feel the warm and often transformational humanity of caring. But in its simple spirit-based form this natural compassion is insufficient to actually reduce most of the suffering on the planet now and in the foreseeable future. This latter goal requires systemic understandings and systemic redesign to actually achieve its purposes. And that, in turn, requires collective efforts that often feel little like traditional compassion, and so must find their motivation from other sources. Developing and growing into that broader sensibility and systemic sophistication is itself an evolutionary leap, and constitutes the next order of evolutionary complexity for compassion as a human response.

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