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Running Interference

01/15/2010

Something to ponder:  When is compassion constructive?  If you said “always” without any forethought, consider the following cherry-picked scenarios.

1.On your walk to work each day, you encounter a homeless person who asks for spare change.  You give them some every few days, out of compassion.  Eventually, you stop seeing them.  You find out later that they were found dead in the street of alcohol poisoning. You’ve done an evil thing.

2. A neighbor loses their job, and although both spouses are looking for work, neither of them can find gainful employment – after a time they find themselves in dire straights. You hear about a job opening at your company that your neighbor could perform adequately and you, the compassionate and rational being that you are, talk to the right people and help them get the job.  Where your neighbor goes from there is their own business, you’ve done a good deed.

Let me explain what is meant by evil and good in this context. In the first scenario, you have essentially taken responsibility for the homeless person’s entire means of living, even though you know nothing about their life (and likely never even asked their name), and they have no accountability to you.  You (and likely others) are their sole source of income, and in this instance, they provide no meaningful service beyond, perhaps, making you feel better about having more than they do (and even that guilt is a scheme, or unintentional on their part).  There is no accountability for their actions.

In the second scenario, you have intervened in a situation you are at least approximately aware of, and only taken a limited responsibility for one aspect of a situation in an attempt to help someone with a specific issue in their life. More importantly, you have not forced anything upon that person, you have only opened a door, the accountability is still theirs.

Taking responsibility for someone’s life requires much more forethought than it is usually given. It’s similar to having a child over whom you have no control.

Charity can mean the difference between success and failure, life and death, but it must never be separated from critical thinking, and it must not be forgotten that interfering with someone’s life in that way (no matter how welcome it may be) is in some measure taking responsibility for that person’s life.  Responsibility without accountability usually leads to disaster.  Don’t think with your heart, it’s not properly equipped for the job.

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From → Rants

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