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Designing a Compassionist Network

We plan to create a “compassionist” network for recruitment, training & deployment of people who will band together to do compassionate acts

Photo of Stan
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International terrorist networks are well designed systems of recruitment, training, and deployment. Some of the activity takes place face to face, but much of it is also done online. The 2007 report by NATO called Hypermedia Seduction for Terrorist Recruiting spells out in some detail the tools and techniques used. In many cases, the people who are recruited are normal people who have experienced a traumatic event, and are now turning away from their previous lives into activities more focused on anger and revenge.

However, these emotions are not only destructive for the focus of terrorist attention, but also for the terrorist recruits themselves. An alternative response to trauma that is less damaging for everyone is an intense increase in compassion, with the goal of helping create a world where traumas like those experienced by the recruits become a thing of the past.

In this project, we plan to leverage the design of terrorist networks to create an alternative system of compassionist networks for recruitment, training and deployment of people who will band together to do compassionate acts. The intense activity of individual cells who take on missions that they have been trained to carry out will hopefully provide a form of positive reintegration (c.f. Dobrowski 1967) that is not currently available.

The characteristics of a mission are that they happen on a project basis, with a limited time frame and concentrated effort by a group of people. In the proposed system, people will be able, in  a curated manner, to pitch, undertake, and report back on missions.

Some of the characteristics related to the compassionist network.

  • recognition of the value of community-based participatory approaches to learning, research, evaluation and partnerships
  • meaningful relationships with the community on multiple levels, competently facilitating partnerships and following participatory approaches
  • access to decision makers within the community
  • skills in problem solving, conflict resolution and working to maintain collaboration with all involved in a community initiative
  • special expertise in an area (i.e., technical needs, organizational design, systems thinking, other themes that relate directly to the community action plan, etc.) that a community initiative may need
  • commitment to the community and the partnership process.

Explain your idea

Compassion as a verb means to recognize the suffering of another, and having a willingness and taking action to alleviate their pain. The structure of modern society—of nation states and mega cities and a world population that has grown to over seven billion—often thwarts and distorts this natural desire to be compassionate. The sense of disconnection is so pervasive that unkindness, indifference, and selfishness appear as the norm; compassion, kindness and caring are the outliers. In a compassionist network, the needs of all the inhabitants of a certain community are recognized and met, the well-being of the entire community is a priority, The design of a compassionist network will involve the creation, development, and implementation of an organization that is going to recruit, train and deploy people who will band together to do compassionate acts, in order to address particular community need or interests. The network will have 3 main groups of actors: 1- Already socially engaged actors / volunteers = anyone interested in working with people who are vulnerable and marginalized, and communities at a social disadvantage that are seeking for social help. 2 - The recruited actors = people who are recruited are normal people who have experienced a traumatic event, and are now turning away from their previous lives but would like to find activities that are less focused on anger and revenge. 3- The recruiters = the organizers of the compassionist network, who will work as “the terrorist recruiters” for the compassionist network. NETWORKING CONNECTION: We plan to make use of the broad range of social media tools, but also include the frightening “dark net” that is the basis for many clandestine operations. COMPASSIONATE ACTIONS: The compassionist actions can be created by the recruiters, but also by the people recruited and by feedback from the community itself. Below are some examples of possible compassionist actions; however, it is important to highlight that the actions will be developed according to the necessities of the community. This is an open network that aims to be developed: think of it as an eBay for compassionist actions. Some of the simpler typical missions might include: Arrange for an elderly homeless person to start receiving social security payments Drive voters to the polls Find a house for a homeless family Offer a team to babysit for a single mom with several children Clean up a public space Prepare the soil and plant a garden Collect colleagues for a specialist “without borders” trip MISSIONS: A core part of the network is the intense, time-bound project approach of the “mission,” where a group of people, perhaps even strangers to one another, come together to accomplish a positive action that would not be possible without the expertise of everyone on the team.

Who Benefits?

These missions aim to work with people who are vulnerable and marginalized, and with communities at a social disadvantage seeking for social help. However, it is important to highlight that the project also wants to provide a positive outlet for the energies of people who have experienced a traumatic event, and are now turning away from their previous lives. At present, their primary opportunities take them into activities more focused on anger and revenge.

How is your idea unique?

This idea is unique because it aims to create a new context / environment to empower people to creatively address complex social problems. This space will help to shift people’s thinking into areas where the problem that was always unsolvable can suddenly have a solution. Moreover, we are going to use a rhizomatic approach that involves a dispersed network for recruiting, training, and supporting people committed to these compassionist actions.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Tell us more about you

We are a group of design researchers and practitioners from three different countries: USA, Canada, and Brazil, conducting research and design projects about social innovation, critical and provocation design and design knowledge. Due to our different cultural and professional backgrounds--design, humanities, and informatics--we have vastly different opinions, which are used in a complementary way. Priscilla: PhD student in Informatics at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Natalie: MFA student in Graphic Design at UIUC. Stan: Anthony J. Petullo Professor of Graphic Design at UIUC.

Expertise in sector

  • 1-2 years

Organization Filing Status

  • No, but we are a formal initiative through a university.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Tom Kruer

Thanks for coining the word "compassionist" to describe us SO well. We are all in this together! Keep up the good work.

Photo of eldy wullur

Hello Stan,
Brilliant idea, may be realized.

Photo of Stan

Hi Eldy. Do you mean such a network already exists, or do you think it should be created? We have seen the Compassion Games project, which looks great.

Photo of eldy wullur

Yes indeed there is an existing, similar but not identical. I wish the best from you.

Photo of Stan

Thank you--that's great to hear! Can you please provide a link or search term for me?

Photo of eldy wullur