FIELD NOTES ON THE COMPASSIONATE LIFE by Marc Ian Barasch
Kirkus Star

FIELD NOTES ON THE COMPASSIONATE LIFE

A Search for the Soul of Kindness

KIRKUS REVIEW

What we know about kindness: a wide-ranging travelogue from a Western Buddhist’s journeys among the caring ones.

Why would a perfectly sane person reach out and help another when there’s nothing in it for him or herself? Barasch (Healing Dreams, 2000, etc.) delves into the question of compassion and comes up with building blocks and some plans for an architecture, not to mention tips for embarking on our own voyages of the heart. He starts by making the case that compassion is not only natural but good for you: “It is not tooth-and-nail competition but conciliation, cuddling, and cooperation that may be the central organizing principle of human evolution.” From here, he paints a portrait of kindness with a broad palate of sources ranging from the Sufi mystics to the bonobo monkeys. These do feel rather like field notes, sourced and annotated, as Barasch refers to research hormones involved in mother-infant relations, anthropological studies of tribalism, and psychological reports on nearly everything from TV’s effect on children to the willingness of passersby to help strangers. Yet the book consists chiefly of insightful depictions of actual experiences and experiments. Barasch panhandles and sleeps on the streets with the homeless, communicates in sign language with chimpanzees, sits in on an Israeli-Palestinian encounter group for youths, and speaks with people who have donated kidneys to complete strangers. More emcee than preacher, he introduces another wise person every third page to make his case, from the obscure (“sixteenth-century Tibetan meditation master Wangchuk Dorje”) to the celebrated (“I’ve been an Audrey Hepburn fan since I was a boy”). Almost the opposite of didactic, Barasch has a gentle touch. Even his prose is comforting, and his arguments are sometimes so subtly made that readers may not realize there even was an argument in the first place.

The more who read Barasch, the better the world will be. Inspiring and encouraging. (bibliography, endnotes)

Pub Date: March 28th, 2005
ISBN: 1-57954-711-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Rodale
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2005