It’s ironic that the most compassionate solution to a problem can sometimes seem on the surface to be cruel or inconsiderate. The truth is sometimes not an easy thing to discover.
“Paradox – a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.”— Oxford Dictionary
The problem is that the truth is not an easy thing to discover. It takes time, effort, and investigation. You must examine the evidence and look to history for guidance.
Strengthen Yourself First
Consider the following directions you’re given before a commercial aircraft takes off.
“If there is a drop in cabin pressure, panels above your seat will open revealing oxygen masks. If this happens, pull the mask towards you until the tube is fully extended. Place the mask over your nose and mouth. Slip the elastic strap over your head and adjust the mask if necessary. Breathe normally and note that oxygen is flowing even if the bag doesn’t inflate. Be sure to adjust your own mask before helping others.”
On the surface, it seems uncompassionate to take care of yourself before aiding others around – children, the elderly, the helpless, etc. But, think about it more deeply. If you help those around you first and pass out due to lack of oxygen, both of you may die. If you help yourself first, you can stay conscious and then help those around you, even if they’re already unconscious.
This simple example underscores the basis of all true compassion. In all circumstances, you can only give residual effort and residual resources to help those around you. You must survive and prosper in order to obtain the resources to help others. If someone is dependent on you, and you die, you both die. If you sincerely want to be compassionate, you must work as hard as you can to create a sustainable surplus of time and resources. Therefore, the best course of action for an aspiring “altruist” is to first strengthen yourself and make sure you are not dependent on others.
“The best way to help the poor is not to become one of them.”— Lang Hancock (1)
Consider Long Term Results
Also, consider the long-term effects of any action to determine if it’s true compassion. What may seem compassionate in the short run, may lead to long-term suffering. Consider the ubiquitous “Don’t Feed the Animals!” signs posted at all national parks. It may seem like a kind gesture to feed a wild animal. But the long-term result is that wild animals lose their ability to forage and survive on their own. They begin to depend on human benefactors for survival, thus weakening the stock.
Another example is disciplining children. It is sometimes necessary to inflict short-term discomfort to save them from long-term pain, or even death. Consider a young child that puts himself in harm’s way by running out into the street. You can’t reason with a three-year-old. Sometimes negative reinforcement, a pinch, or a swat on the behind, is the only way to associate the bad behavior with a potentially negative outcome. This short-term discomfort saves the child from future pain or even death.
Don’t Steal to Fulfill Your Narcissism
You’re not being compassionate if you steal to fulfill your goal of compassion. You are simply inflicting pain on one group to aid another. Examine why you do this. I suggest the underlying goal of this type of behavior is narcissism. These people want to believe they are compassionate. But because they either don’t have the resources (time or money) or simply don’t want to put forth the necessary effort, they search for other means to support their narrative. Facing the reality that they have nothing to give others, or are simply unwilling to sacrifice their own time and resources, would diminish their self-image as altruists.
Stealing is Not Compassion
These principles apply to both individuals and societies. A society can only aid the needy with the residuals from the productive, hard-working, and disciplined members of society.
In matters of government policy, you often hear politicians making lofty promises without any means to pay for them. Their gambit is, once elected, they can steal the necessary funds from a small group, to reward a larger group. They thereby reap votes from the larger group, while suffering the ire of a much smaller group. This is why class warfare is a favorite theme of leftist dogma. “The poor” will always outnumber “the rich.” Therefore, stealing from “the rich” is always a net vote gain. But again, the underlying motive of these politicians is really narcissism. They don’t care about “the poor” as much as they want to be seen as caring and compassionate so they can garner votes. The end goal of these policies is always the acquisition of power and a lofty position for the politician.
Stealing from small groups of people to benefit a larger group ensures a majority of votes and elections. I believe this is why leftists and socialists are always calling the United States a “democracy” rather than its more accurate designation, a “republic.” You will never hear a Democrat refer to the United States as a republic. If you don’t know the difference between a Democracy and a Republic, see my blog, “It’s a Republic Stupid” here.
A republic insures protection for all factions by guaranteeing individual rights in our constitution. A republic guarantees individual rights regardless of what the majority wants. For instance, brown-eyed people cannot vote to steal from blue-eyed people just because they’re in the majority.
“Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).”― Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness
Are You Compassionate?
Before thinking of yourself as “compassionate,” first examine your motives. Do you really want to help others, or do you simply want to feel good about yourself? If you really want to help others, work hard to make yourself strong, self-reliant, and wealthy. Then study a social problem, collect evidence, and review historical results. Choose the recipients of your generosity carefully.
With regard to public policy, listen to all sides of political arguments. Handouts usually create bigger problems than they solve. True compassion may mean putting a “Do Not Feed the Citizens!” sign in front of the capital building.
(1) In The Bulletin, February 19, 1977, p. 13,