Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mythmakers: Compassion, One of the Things That Makes Us Human

       An earlier Mythmaker post, Mythmakers: A Diversion into the Political, was provoked by the incident at the RNC where someone threw nuts at a black camerawoman and said, "This how we feed the animals." In that essay, I discussed how human beings are all the same species, sharing the same DNA, and therefore are entitled to be treated equally.  I cited Precept No. 17: There are creatures on this planet [amended later to in the universe] who speak, form symbols, and share emotions; these may be called human.
       Now another article, an op-ed piece written by Nicholas D. Kristof, spurs me to elaborate further on a related topic.
       The article deals with a man who in midlife decided he wanted to do what he had always wanted to do, so he quit his job and didn't have sufficient funds to pay for health insurance.  He then developed prostate cancer, didn't get treatment soon enough because of lack of resources, and subsequently died from it.  The article in question promotes Obamacare. I happen to support  universal health insurance, but my purpose today is not political but humanist.  Many of the responses to the article demonstrated a callous rejection of one of the essential qualities that make us human.
       To quote from the article: “ 'Not sure why I’m to feel guilty about your friend’s problem,' Terry from Oregon wrote on my blog. 'I take care of myself and mine, and I am not responsible for anyone else.'       
       "Bruce wrote that many people in hospitals are there because of their own poor choices: 'Smoking, obesity, drugs, alcohol, noncompliance with medical advice. Extreme age and debility, patients so sick, old, demented, weak, that if families had to pay one-tenth the cost of keeping the poor souls alive, they would instantly see that it was money wasted.' "
       The more often I read these statements, the more arrogant and insensate they appear to me.  These people may be creationists for all I know, but they apparently are fervent supporters of the concept of survival of the fittest!  And they may be "good Christians," but if they are, they have forgotten two New Testament admonitions (Mythmaker philosophy is eclectic, willing to extract whatever is valuable from any spiritual writing):
        From John 8:7 (KJV): "He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone."
        From Matthew 7:1, 5 (KJV): "Judge not, that ye be not judged. ... Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."
        To quote from Kristof:  "The proportion of Republicans who agree that 'it is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves' has slipped from 58 percent in 2007 to just 40 percent today.'"
       These same people are probably anti-abortion, but why care for a fetus any more than you would care for your Alzheimer-stricken parent -- neither can take care of itself or has any ability to contribute to society or its own welfare.  The argument would be -- but the fetus has the potential to contribute.  OK, but don't we owe something to our parent, for the contribution it made to our own lives in the past?  Do we simply lay our failing family members out on the curb and sit rocking on the porch, sipping lemonade and watching while they die?  Quite a reality show, yes?
       Kristof goes on to present counterarguments to the implications of this statement, only one of which I will consider here:  "A civilized society compensates for the human propensity to screw up. ... To err is human, but so is to forgive.  Compassion isn’t a sign of weakness, but of civilization."
       So this brings me to a discussion of certain Mythmaker precepts.  I believe Mr. Kristof would find them compatible with his own philosophy. 
       Precept No. 4: Humans must take responsibility for their own behavior, not seeking to put blame on imposed rules (of deity or human) or on fate, chance, or the intervention or willfulness of deity.
       I discussed this one in my earlier post, Beginning My Mythmaker Analysis.  It's central tenet of the philosophy -- when you screw up, you don't try to blame somebody else and you don't try to blame society or a warped code of behavior.  Humans have the power to do this where no other animal does, because we have developed reason and a sense of right and wrong.  We don't act merely on survival instinct.
       However, the seemingly heartless absolutism of this is immediately tempered by Precept No. 5: 
       Humans will never succeed absolutely in achieving these goals; nevertheless striving for right action is its own purpose.
       Humans are an imperfect work-in-progress and they will always fail in this attempt to take responsibility and to find the Right Way.  Therefore, we have to forgive -- to show compassion for one another and to help our fellow humans live up to their responsibilities.  Whether that is a responsibility of government may be debated in the 21st century, but it becomes one of the two primary functions of government in the Earth of the 27th century and beyond. (The other is keeping  the peace among these contentious and imperfect creatures called humans.)
       The Precepts never actually mention the word "compassion," but Precept No. 17 (cited at the top of this post) introduces humans' ability to share emotions as one of the fundamental characteristics of what makes us human.  If a human shares someone's grief and pain (the ability is called empathy), that person instinctively wants to do something to alleviate the suffering.  What is that but compassion?  Fortunately, we see many true examples of this human feeling in the 21st century, but it is regrettable that a such a sizable majority of our fellow species members seems to reject it.
       So, the empathy that impels us to care for the weak and less fortunate -- those who can't take of themselves -- is a distinctly human trait.   This may be to our detriment as a species, because it throws off the balance of nature (there are too many humans on the Earth and we are very good at finding ways to keep ourselves alive), but however that may be, I would not want to exist in a world where the dominant intelligent species lacks qualities of compassion and empathy and the instinct to take care of the less fortunate.

       The next Mythmaker post will delve more deeply into what it means to be human.


  1. Hi Lorinda. I read the Kristof piece too, and was shocked by the many heartless reader responses. Couldn't help wondering how many of those respondents show up every time the church doors swing open, and how they reconcile their (ostensible) acceptance of religious doctrine with day-to-day behavior. Like you, I have no interest in living in a world where empathy is a matter of lip service -- which is why I admire people like Kristof who not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    1. Thanks, Jack! On your Facebook page was where I ran into the article. My response may have been a little intemperate, but every time I read those remarks, I got increasingly indignant! I'm getting to an age where before too long I could be one of those people who ought to be thrown out on the curb to die.

  2. Hi Lorinda. Not at all intemperate. Rather, I thought you came across quite legitimately "put out". As for the curbside, you're far too creative, thoughtful, and productive for that! I think you should carry on. Indefinitely.

    1. Well,gee whizz! Thank you! I hope you carry on indefinitely, too, and continue to write beautiful stories forever! I'm trying, but the arthritis is beginning to get the better of me! That's why I'm in a bit of a hurry to accomplish things, but unfortunately book sales remain lethargic.

  3. Interesting article. It leaves room for much thought. I like this quote: "Whether that is a responsibility of government may be debated in the 21st century..." because many people who are not for universal health care, who are opposed to Obamacare-- it is NOT that they are evil people who want to see people suffer. This is a perception taken on by the left to sway people to their opinion. Trust me, they do not want to see Aunt Janie die without the medical care she needs.

    It is simply they do not feel the government has the right to tell us we have to subscribe to their plan or be penalized financially. It is not their place to interject...and force it upon a nation--where clearly nearly half don't want it. It simply is not their responsibility--but they've gone and made it their responsibility. I am not opposed to healthcare for those who want it and are in need--but what about us who don't want it?? They've infringed upon my rights.

    I personally don't like the burden it will put on my children and grandchildren financially, as we clearly don't have the money to afford such a plan. I do not believe that we are doing right by our children with putting them into debt before they even had a chance to get out of diapers. Sorry--but unless we were able to get our house in order first, we had no business venturing into passing such a plan.

    1. Thanks for presenting your views! Let me say first that I agree most people are compassionate toward those less able to take care of themselves - note that I wrote: "We see many true examples of this human feeling in the 21st century." If I didn't think this was a basic human trait, I couldn't be a humanist, which is based in the premise that people have it within themselves to behave morally and ethically. My remarks were addressed to the type of person who would make the quoted comments in response to Kristof's article, because there are some of those out there, too.
      As for why I support universal health insurance ... I agree it's a work-in-progress and "Obamacare"isn't the full or definitive answer. You mention those who don't need health care, but you know what? Everybody is going to need health care at some point of their lives, unless they are one of those disgustingly healthy individuals who suddenly drops dead of a heart attack. And I personally don't care about a lot of choice. I know that's anathema in these times, where everybody wants 50 different kinds of cars and smart phones and burgers and health plans to chose from. I think that's just a waste of time, which is the one thing in life we don't have enough of.
      Maybe I should write a post on why I support universal health coverage (my personal experiences). It's too big a topic for a comment response. I'll work on that - thanks for giving me the idea!