Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Obligation as Compassionate People

Last week, during the Forum on Ending Homelessness, Norm Sucher from the National Alliance to End Homelessness said something that prompted me to pull out my phone to write it down: 

"What is our obligation as compassionate people?"

Let that ring in your head for a minute.  The premise of the question is what interests me most - As compassionate people, we have some obligation that arises out of the very instance of being compassionate.  If we were insulated from sympathy, we are insulated from duty. 

There is a further implication that carries from this premise, such that "our obligation as compassionate people" is to advocate for compassion against those who are unsympathetic.  (Unless our compassion is for the dull and jaded, in which case this thought experiment turns into a black hole.)

"What is our obligation as compassionate people?"

It is a bit freeing, don't you think?  Almost too much so.  Cost/benefit analyses have the solid foundation of numbers and data.  "You can do good, just show me the receipt."  And that is the outlet of a way.  Philanthropy opens the boundaries for compassion with little regard for personal return-on-investment.  You want the money spent well on whatever good is being sought, but you should not expect personal reward other than the subjective aura of "feeling good for doing good" (which must never been under-valued).

But as important as philanthropy may be, does it fulfill our obligation as compassionate people?  In a way, "compassion" is an interest group.  Anyone who had the good fortune of participating in Lincoln-Douglas debates as a high school student may remember "Core Values".  My core value would weight against your core value, with supporting contentions underneath, in resolution of a dubious statement.  (My guess is that 40% of this blog's readership just went to check on whether The Oatmeal has a new comic out.  [He does.])

How would compassion stand up against core values like "free will" or "wealth"?  It is just slippery enough to make a reasoned argument very difficult to support.  It is one of the balls juggled by nonsense upon stilts. 

Is there a place for compassion?  How do we advocate for positions of compassion when the supporting case of reason and financial soundness are absent?  How do we fulfill our duty?

That's all for today.  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!