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What is compassion?5 min read

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Many conservatives are often forced to answer the question “why don’t you care?” or some similar inquiry. More often than not, the accuser simply avoids the questioning route all together and simply states, “you have no compassion.”

Thanks in large part to the media, the left has become the party of compassion, while the right is a collection of cold-hearted individuals. What seperates the two sides and what role does compassion play for either?

Recently, I had a beloved college professor die (I blogged about it here). She was a die-hard Democrat, meaning she and I disagreed on most political issues. Nevertheless, I had a deep respect for her and I understood the reasoning behind her stances – compassion.

She believed the best way to right many of society’s wrongs was through government intervention. The answer to education, poverty, healthcare, etc. was a more hands-on role by the federal government, in other words, more money spent by the federal government.

I never doubted her heart, but I did (and still do) doubt the overall effectiveness of the liberal Democratic mindset. I never questioned her compassion and I don’t believe she ever questioned mine. We just saw compassion in different ways.

In my reasoning, it is ineffective in the long run to involve the federal government in issues of charity and compassion. Inevitably, they waste as much money as they properly spend. Case in point, the recent fiasco over post-Katrina spending. The same ones who screamed the loudest for the government to do something fast are the ones wondering how this waste could have happened. You have much less waste and much more responsibility from non-profit groups.

Governments by nature expand their roles to larger than originally intended. When first established welfare was set up to be a safety net to catch people and give them a way to rebound, looking for a new job. Now, people live their entire lives on the program, never venturing beyond the pitiful realm of government assistance. Those people have been hamstrung by the very program that was designed to help them.

The old proverb is still true – “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” Merely passing out free “fish” does nothing for the individual. They take it and expect the freebies tomorrow and the day after for the rest of their lives. You have effectively removed all drive and ambition from them.

In my view it is ultimately not true compassion when you are using someone’s money. Many liberals (like my professor) would give you the shirt off their back and are tremendous individual givers. To me, that is true compassion – giving of yourself. It is much easier to simply promise that the government (other taxpayers) will provide you with what you need/want, than to become involved yourself.

Conservatism is all for compassion and helping people in their time of need, but it is not for forcing by law other people to help with their money. It is easy to say what the rich should be doing with their money. “They don’t need it. They should give it to someone else.” Regardless of how much they have, their money is not mine and I should not have the right to tell them where to give it.

Even the majority of poor Americans have huge amounts of expendable income when compared with the poor of other nations. What if a poor African had the right to force you to give up eating meat because all he has is rice or wheat? What if a poor Indian had the right to force you to give up your home because his family doesn’t have one?

Maybe we should consider eating less meat or living in a smaller home in order to give more to the poor around the world, but should someone else have the right to force us to do so? Can it be considered compassion or charity when you are forced to do it?

These are some of the reasons why I am a conservative and not a liberal. It is not because I have no compassion for the poor, the sick, the homeless, etc. My compassion is merely directed in a different form. I would rather donate as an individual or through a non-profit organization than through the government. I would rather give sacrificially myself than expect others to do it through the tax code.

I do not doubt the compassion of liberals. I doubt the effectiveness of their proposals. I would ask the same of those who disagree with conservatives. You can disagree with my methods and ideas, but do not doubt or question my compassion or my heart.

That is one of the greatest lessons I learned from my professor. It is entirely possibly to disagree with someone on virtually every issue and still have a respect for them.