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Friday, September 7, 2007

An Odd Definition of Compassion

An Odd Definition of Compassion

There’s something that has stuck in my craw for a number of years – the odd definitions of compassion and generosity that seems to exist in modern society. It has to do primarily with our politicians. It’s generally understood that if a politician votes to give money to someone in need, that’s compassion. To my thinking, that’s an extremely odd definition of compassion. Now, if that same politician reached down in his own pocket and gave his own money to someone in need, that would indeed be genuine compassion. He would be a truly generous person.

But simply voting to take someone else’s money and give it to an individual in need is not compassion, at least not by my understanding. Compassion is giving your own money to help someone else.

Using the power of government to help someone else may be a necessary thing, but it has absolutely nothing to do with compassion. It’s like the story of a citizen and a politician walking down the street. They come upon a street person who asks for help. The citizen reaches down in his pocket and gives $20 to the person and tells him that if he’ll stop by his office to work he’ll pay him $10 per hour. The politician is impressed by the generosity of the citizen, so when they come across another street person he walks over and gives him directions to the welfare office, then takes $20 from the citizen (holds out $5 for administrative costs) and gives the balance to the street person.

Voting to give other people’s money to folks in need may make a politician feel good and he may think he is compassionate when he does so, but this is not compassion. Being generous with someone else’s money is easy to do, but in most cases it’s just self-serving. The politician’s goal is often just to make that person feel indebted to him, and helping him is incidental to the situation. 
In fact, government aid to the poor is usually a disconnect. What is disconnected is the love that motivates an individual to help another person. For most politicians, giving other people’s money to the poor is just another way of buying votes. And truthfully, most politicians don’t care a whit if the money really gets to the person in need. They just want it on the record that they are "compassionate" and want to be sure that the person helped is committed to vote for them.

If this seems cynical, just ask your politician how much of their salary they donated to charity last year. You’ll be shocked to learn that politicians of all stripes, conservative, liberal, Republican and Democrat give very, very little of their own money to charity. It’s hard to find out what the numbers are, but when the sums are disclosed it’s almost always less than 2% of what they earn!

In contrast, the hard-hearted businessman (as portrayed by Hollywood) is often among the most generous and compassionate in our society. I work with many fine folks in the business community who give much more than 15% of their income and profits to charity each year. On top of that, they volunteer their time to serve others in need. Without any fanfare or credit, tens of thousands of small business leaders help less blessed members of our society by donating their time and dollars.

For you "compassionate" politicians who portray yourself as "compassionate" because you give away other people’s money, you deserve nothing but the Bronx cheer. But for you truly compassionate businessmen and businesswomen as well as all Americans who dig down deep to help make this a better country in which to live, you deserve a round of applause.

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