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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Need for Enlightened Compassion

Nothing is truer than the old saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”   Feeling sorry for someone is often not a virtue, especially if it derives from patronization.   In this case “good intentions” are really a cloak for ill will.  It is remarkably easy to keep one’s distance by tossing money at the needy.   As “tough love” recognizes the fact that “indulgent love” is actually not love at all, so we also have “tough compassion” and its polar opposite “indulgent compassion” which is not compassion at all.  Indulgent love and indulgent compassion spoil a child.  What does it mean to spoil a child?  It means that the child will always expect and demand more, no matter what you do.  In other words, the child comes to have unlimited wants and desires.  The child comes to recognize no limits and constantly feels he is a victim since he is being constantly denied ever more.  Of course this becomes a very serious problem, for a fundamental aspect of life is that we must operate within limits, and the psychological perspective of victimization undermines generosity and creativity.

Common sense that arises from a sober reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of human nature is the first requirement of government.  The US Constitution began there, and it resulted in checks and balances and the Bill of Rights.  Social Security established a new role for government—insuring that those in old age have a measure of financial independence.  This and other safety nets are attempts to institutionalize compassion.  I at 66 am glad that when I retire I will be able to draw a social security check.  I have seen the projection of my social security income, and it doesn’t seem exorbitant or in danger of spoiling me.  Those who wish to privatize social security largely from ideological motivations—governments should govern and not be in any business—have a point.  It always should cause pause when government seeks to engage in activities normally assigned to the private sector.  Is it really beneficial for citizens to receive goods such as electric or phones from government monopolies?  Does government really want to be blamed every time there is a disruption in one of these services?    Doesn’t government ownership and its responsibilities take the focus off of government’s essential role—government itself?  And of course there is the danger that the central authority figure—government—will be perceived as never doing enough, especially in the publically owned governments of democracies as was mentioned in yesterday’s blog.  Hell hath no fury like a spoiled citizen denied his wishes and perceived dues.  

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