Humanity demands compassion but the president isn’t listening
The Short Version
After White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney referred to the president’s budget proposal as “fairly compassionate” this week, many were offended by the characterization because of the severe cuts to social programs. But when we look at what compassion actually encompasses, many of our own lives have room for improvement as well. As we demand more compassion from our government, perhaps now is the time to demand more from ourselves as well.
What We’re Talking About
Compassion is a basic human moral value that is embraced by every major religion and progressive philosophy for the past 4,000 years. Broad in its reach and interpretation, compassion requires one to think outside themselves, to consider strongly not only the needs of others but how one’s own actions affect other people. Compassion requires forgiveness, inclusiveness, and acceptance. Compassion requires giving of oneself to the point of personal sacrifice. Compassion requires setting aside what might make sense in order to do what is right toward another human being, or even the planet. Compassion puts lives before profit and before power. Compassion does not have a bottom line.
Embraced by every major religion in the world, the Christian bible requires feeding one’s enemy (Romans 12:20), and being forgiving, kind, and thoughtful (Ephesians 4:32). The Quran teaches Muslims to “compete with each other in doing good (Surat al-Ma’ida, 48).” The Hindu god Vishnu is motivated by compassion and incarnates to bring compassion to an unbalanced world. The Talmud requires compassion from those who would seek compassion. Nearly every belief system in the world, spiritual or secular, adheres to some form of the “Golden Rule:” Do unto others as you would have done to you.
Against such a background, we can confidently state that to not show compassion is globally immoral. The overriding question, though, is how much compassion is enough? White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney calls the president’s budget proposal “fairly compassionate” because, he alleges, taxpayer money is only used “in a proper function.” That statement has received considerable backlash, however, as many of the cuts proposed by the White House would spell an end to some of the most compassionate programs that exist. In fact, between the budget and the proposed health care law, the current administration and Republicans in Congress do not appear to have any concern for compassion at all. Between the two bills, these are just some of the items that could be eliminated or severely reduced.
- Various programs that make up the system of support for expecting mothers and children known as WIC
- The Community Development Block Grant program that allows states to identify and address specific social needs within communities
- After-school care programs that provide critical meals to the children of working parents
- The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant that provides assistance for low-income college students
- Subsidies that help lower-income people pay for out-of-pocket health care costs
- The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that helps lower-income people pay utility bills especially during times of extreme temperatures
- $80 billion in Medicaid funding for disabled, poor, and elderly Americans
- The Legal Services Corporation that provides low-income assistance for civil cases, such as acquiring restraining orders for victims of domestic abuse
- $1 billion in funding for CDC Prevention and Public Health Fund that supports heart disease and stroke prevention, immunization, lead poisoning prevention and diabetes prevention
- The Corporation for National and Community Service supporting community-based programs such as AmeriCorp and others
- Dental, Vision, and Mental health care for low-income children
I dare anyone to sufficiently explain how any of those programs are not “a proper function.” Compassion requires that we offer all the assistance we can to the poor, the sick, the homeless, and the underprivileged. There is no profit/loss line to the budget of compassion. One does not measure compassion based on an action’s return on investment (ROI). One cannot even measure compassion based on the success or failure of a program. Compassion is exercising our resources to meet a need. When it comes to compassion, it is better to have dome something and failed than to have done nothing at all.
Compassion requires we look outside ourselves, even outside our own country. The entire concept of “America first” lacks compassion as it ignores the needs of seven billion people world to focus on the narrow needs of some 376 million people in the United States. We cannot call ourselves compassionate if we support and implement programs that remove funding for international aid simply so that we can build an ill-conceived wall across a portion of our Southern border.
For example, yesterday (March 17) was Match Day for doctoral students graduating colleges this spring. This is where the soon-to-be-physicians find out where they will be doing their residency and what communities they’ll be serving. Of course, everyone wants the elite hospitals, but the truth is that all the graduates from all the medical schools in the US are not enough to fill all the residency vacancies. As a result, we have, for many years now, been dependent on foreign doctors to help take up the slack. Without those additional physicians, there would be gaping holes of service, especially in family-oriented fields of general practice. However, the president’s travel ban stands to severely limit the number of doctors who are able to apply for residency in the United States. Not only are doctors from the six directly affected countries prohibited from applying, doctors from other countries are finding their visas under increased scrutiny, delaying or eliminating their ability to accept much-needed medical positions in the US.
Let’s cut this down to reality here: for every doctor who is denied entry to the US, an entire community of Americans has less access to health care. Show me the compassion in such a program.
What strikes me, though, is that perhaps our elected officials fail to show compassion in the legislation they author is, consciously or not, they don’t consider their constituents to be compassionate people. Part of the momentum that drove populists into important positions in the past election is an overwhelming message of selfishness. As a nation, we voted for what we thought best served our personal interest. We didn’t care how our decisions might affect other people. We didn’t care who might be hurt as long as it wasn’t us. Our votes sent a horribly selfish message to Washington and they have responded based on that selfishness.
We need a government steeped in compassion. However, we must first be more compassionate ourselves. We’re talking about more than just dipping into our pockets a bit more. As a nation, we’ve been stuck on this trend of giving approximately two percent of our national GDP for some time now. This makes us look better than we actually are. As the economy improves, so does the dollar amount that we’re giving. However, as a percentage of our income, we’re not actually giving any more. Add to that the fact that 32% of our giving goes to religious entities, of which less than three percent is distributed to social needs, and what we’re doing to help other people is, in reality, much less than we think.
There are opportunities to be compassionate everywhere we look. Just this morning, I was reading about rainforest-free clothing. Now, as a caveat, I have to say that I really don’t like rayon fabric myself, but I understand that for certain garments it is much more cost effective than silk or satin. That aside, though, when we purchase garments made with rayon and support fashion labels who don’t carefully source the fabric, we’re ultimately doing harm to communities dependent on the rainforests for their livelihood. While it’s great that labels such as Victoria’s Secret and Stella McCartney have started eliminating those fabrics from their collections, it is up to us to consciously decide to exercise compassion in choosing rainforest-free clothing.
What we do with our cast-off clothing is anther opportunity for compassion as well. While it is easy enough for us to just dump our closet rejects at the local second-hand facility, the more compassionate move is to work directly with those organizations that interface with giving away clothes to the poor. By avoiding the more corporate entities with huge overhead costs, we can get more clothes to the people who really need them rather than giving Millennials and others an inexpensive way to fund a trendy lifestyle.
Compassion often requires us to make difficult decisions, such as not seeking the death penalty despite pressure to do so, or allowing the terminally ill to die of their own accord without any interference. We don’t like issues surrounding death and often find it difficult to determine where compassion is best applied. Do we act in benefit of those who would die, or do we act for the benefit of those who still live? Compassion is not always an easy or popular choice.
Compassion also leads us to care for the mentally ill and this is where we need to pay special attention because I firmly believe that .many other social issues such as unemployment and homelessness are directly affected by undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. Our country has never recognized and funded treatment for mental illness at anywhere near the levels necessary to have a serious impact on other social challenges. We too often think that mental illness is something that is made up or contrived or created to manipulate a system. However, over 42 million Americans, by conservative estimates, suffer from some form of mental illness, whether it be depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia. If we were to be totally honest about veteran PTSD rates, the number would likely double.
Compassion for the mentally ill is challenging because when we get serious about treatment, many would do best with in-patient care but there are not enough facilities, not enough doctors and nowhere near enough funding to meet the inevitable need. Compassion is also complicated by the fact that, for many diagnoses, intervention and care has to be done at a professional level. There are times when the best we can do is to insist someone get professional help and make sure that happens.
For example, let’s take someone who is overtly paranoid and believing that important people are out to “get” them, someone who also lies on a regular basis without any reason for doing so, someone who exaggerates facts, and who lashes out at perceived criticism, someone whose sense of reality is off-base to the point of creating danger. Compassion for this person means not only providing appropriate psychiatric care but removing them from the situations that fuel and perpetuate their psychosis. Compassion also demands that we prevent this person from taking any action that might cause harm to themselves or others, either directly or indirectly. Compassion also requires severing the co-dependent relationships that facilitate the psychosis and allow it to continue.
We all know someone like that. We elected him to office.
We are required to be compassionate. To not be compassionate is immoral.
So, consider what you need to do. Be compassionate and then encourage Congress to do the same.