Is this really compassion?
Whether it is determining how America should address illegal immigration, the possibility of terrorists entering the country through legal means, suspected voter fraud, the plague of poverty, or a multitude of other challenges, there seems to be a recurring call for compassion. This emphasis on “compassion” is contributing to a dangerous divide in our nation.
That divide is reflected in the protests we seem to see daily. This is especially true of those protests that seek to deny free speech to people who hold conservative views. This is far too frequently accompanied by violence and threatening speech. On the other side of this vocal outcry are those who remain quiet but grow more and more frustrated and disgusted by what they see in the outcry; the calls for compassion. I contend that in this tension between those who scream for compassion and those who question the legitimacy of those screams is the divide that is fed by the calls for compassion. For those pressing so fervently for compassion, the critical question regarding what they want becomes: “Is this really compassion?”
Here is a definition of compassion from greatergood.berkeley.edu:
“Compassion literally means ‘to suffer together.’ Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering."
Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help.”
The phrase “relieve that suffering” is the key component of this definition. Compassion does not simply make people a bit more comfortable in their state of suffering. No, the aim is to help them be free of that suffering. In the account (John 8:1-11) of Jesus helping the woman caught in adultery, He did not simply save her from being stoned. Jesus challenges her accusers and, in the face of His question, the accusers leave. In verse 11, Jesus says to the woman, “Go and sin no more.” He did not leave her in a state where she might easily commit this act again. Instead, Jesus “helps” this woman by not only saving her from being stoned but by also showing her the way to avoiding similar suffering in the future. This is the look of compassion.
With this definition of compassion, where helping relieve suffering is central and the compassion of Jesus as points of reference, consider a current issue where these points might be applicable. That issue is requiring that prescribed identification be presented by citizens in order to vote. Opposition to such legislation has been and is being, vehemently opposed in states across America. The primary reason given for opposition is that certain groups of citizens cannot obtain any one of the required forms of identification. Following are relevant quotes from a document posted by the American Civil Liberties Union titled, “Oppose Voter ID Legislation - Fact Sheet:”
“Many Americans do not have one of the forms of identification states acceptable for voting. These voters are disproportionately low-income, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Such voters more frequently have difficulty obtaining ID, because they cannot afford or cannot obtain the underlying documents that are a prerequisite to obtaining government-issued photo ID card.”
“Minority voters disproportionately lack ID. Nationally, up to 25 percent of African-American citizens of voting age lack government-issued photo ID, compared to only 8 percent of whites.”
“Underlying documents required to obtain ID cost money, a significant expense for lower-income Americans. The combined cost of document fees, travel expenses and waiting time are estimated to range from $75 to $175.”
These quotes paint a picture of a person who cannot afford $75 to $175 to take the actions necessary to get the ID required to vote and is very likely a black citizen. The ACLU, NAACP, and many other organizations, along with individuals, respond to this situation by spending and causing what must be millions of dollars to be spent by defendants to stop enforcement of voter ID laws in various states. There is no doubt in my mind that every organization and individual involved in mounting these court cases, coupled with protests and tremendous media support, will argue that these are acts of compassion.
Put these claimed acts of compassion to the test of the definition of compassion and the example of Jesus. If a person cannot spend $75 to $175 to get an ID required to vote, what might that indicate about the person’s overall life condition? Very likely, not being able to vote for lack of an ID card is among the least of his or her difficulties. Compassion would direct us to help that person move beyond the state of suffering that makes it impossible to get an ID card. However, this is not the response of those who fight with amazing energy to prevent implementation of voter ID requirements. What is described here does not pass the “compassion test.”
The question then becomes why these people would claim compassion but not act in ways that really reflect compassion … help people move beyond their state of suffering? The answer is pretty obvious to me. If a person is struggling and suffering for whatever reason, it is not likely that he or she will make the investment of time and energy required to get informed regarding issues and facts on which voting decisions should be made. That situation leaves one open to be influenced by people he or she chooses to trust. Along come strong personalities who claim to have the best interest of these suffering masses as a top priority. Those strong personalities, in sound-bites, make a case, such as voter ID, being about preventing these suffering people from voting and it rings true. The result is feigned compassion that does nothing by way of freeing people from suffering, but smoothly ushers them into being controlled and manipulated while coming nowhere close to recognizing what is happening.
What we need now is real compassion. For the most part, it must come from Americans who are quiet, but frustrated and disgusted with the havoc being perpetrated on our nation in the name of compassion. We must speak up and get involved publicly with efforts that help others move beyond their suffering while not punishing or penalizing those who are not among the suffering. Breaking free of quietness and taking a stand will be costly to those who choose this course. However, failing to do so will be far more costly.