How do you measure compassion?

By Tom Quiner

The Facebook exchange started like this:

“Debt deal is put on the backs of the poor and marginalized. The rich will bear no burden. Thank you very much Congress. NOT!”

Someone else jumped in:

“How about a certain amount of rich people’s money being given to the poor?”

Someone else jumped in:

“Exorbitant wealth seems to lead to crazy greed, over blown self-importance, and feeling the need to wield power over others. Rarely (I didn’t say never!) does it lead one toward having a charitable humanitarian truly selfless urge to help the down-trodden or the ones sliding down toward becoming downtrodden.”

For the record, each of these writers engaging in a Facebook conversation is a great human being, one making a difference in this world. I like them. I respect them. But I have a different political perspective.

I responded as follows:

“I’m missing something. The bottom 47% do not pay any income tax. The top ten percent pay 70% of all income taxes. I know people of means who are good people and people of limited means who aren’t so nice. And vice versa. I’m not comfortable with this stereotyping.”

There’s an interesting distinction between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans are more religious. People who identify themselves as Democrats with no religious conviction have quadrupled in the Democrats’ ranks since the 1970s according to Syracuse University researcher, Arthur Brooks in his book: “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism.”

Why is this relevant? Because religious people give more money to charity than non religious ones.

Professor Brooks found the divide stunning between liberals and conservatives when it comes to giving. I mention this because the Facebook writers above suggest that folks opposed to the president’s agenda are somehow greedy, uncaring, even unjust.

Liberal icon, Ralph Nader, put it this way:

“A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity.”

One liberal bumper sticker says it this way:

 “The Moral High Ground Is Built on Compassion.”

So how do you measure compassion?

Is it charitable giving? Although the average self-identified liberal household earns six percent more than their conservative counterparts, conservatives give 30 percent more to charity.

So how do you measure compassion? Is it time donated to charity? Is it blood donated to blood banks?

Conservatives donate more time and blood than liberals.

It comes down to this, according to Professor Brooks research: the typical liberal believes government should dole out compassion. The typical conservative believes he should do it himself.

I would like to emphasize that I know of committed social-justice Catholics and others who are religious (and liberal) who are in the trenches doing important work. And I know conservatives who aren’t.

And vice versa.

We all must be careful of stereotypes.

Professor Brooks, who politically is an independent, looks at the big picture. He was stunned to discover his thesis that liberals would be more compassionate than conservatives was exactly wrong.

If you measure it by blood, sweat, and tears, conservatives win.

If you measure it by feelings and indignation, you get a different outcome.

1 Comment

  1. Rhonda Phillips on August 4, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    America was founded upon Christian principals and has always and continues to lead the world in compassionate giving. Christ’s teaching, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” has had a profound impact abroad and in the U.S. It is a fact that the Christian Church has done more for the poor, the down-trodden and the unloved than any other entity on the planet. This is simply a fact no matter how much those who oppose the church wish to deny it.