Friday, January 21, 2011

Compassion (And The Lack Thereof)

Before my community choir's Christmas concert last month, our director sent out an e-mail noting that there was an empty food donation box for a local charity near the door of the venue where we were going to perform—a museum of sorts that doesn't get much business in the winter—and he asked us to encourage our family and friends who were going to hear us sing to bring a couple of non-perishable food items to the concert and donate them.  (For this charity, people donate toys, non-perishable foods and the like and the organization distributes them to people who wouldn't otherwise be able to have these at Christmas.)  When I left that night, I noticed that the box was overflowing and a couple of large cardboard boxes held even more food donations.

A few hours after my grandfather died, most of my family got together for breakfast at the local restaurant where I've been ordering pizza at least once a month for the past six or seven years. I got there late because I fell asleep again after I'd heard that everyone was meeting, but I got there in time to have a cup of tea.  When I went to pay, the person who'd served my tea told me that he'd already taken care of it.  It was a small act of kindness, but I will always remember it and be grateful to him for it.

Things like this give me hope—they're a sign that for all that's happened to the world, there are still people around who care about what happens to others and who try to make things a bit better for those less fortunate than themselves.

But just as there are things that give me hope, there are many—oh, so many—that can and will take it away, such as some news I read last month from my neighbours to the South: apparently poor people only need to eat once a month.  Lovely, isn't it, how some people like to pretend that a month's allocation of food stamps will stretch to a huge, decadent meal every day for a month just because they personally burned through a month's worth of food stamps in one day? *sigh*  It's like they don't think that poor people need to survive on what can be purchased with those things for a whole month at a time.  Like they think that poor people have a special metabolism that will allow them to survive on one large meal per month.

Actually, sometimes I suspect that it's not so much that they don't know/care/realize that even poor people need nutritious food to survive, as they simply don't care if poor people survive.  Just like the oh-so-compassionate folks who think it's perfectly fine that the parents of a baby who needs a $500,000 transplant in order to survive would have had to see their child suffer and die of a treatable disease if it hadn't been for an insurance company who approached them and said they'd cover it, since the surgery is so unreasonably costly and Medicaid won't pay for it thanks to budget cuts, claiming that it's an experimental procedure despite its proven success rate (73%) and the fact that it was first performed nearly eighteen years ago.

"Experimental," my foot.

In the comments to the first story, people were calling this an example of what socialized medicine will do, all the while ignoring the fact that this is actually an example of what for-profit health care always does!  When your medical system is run on a for-profit basis, the people with the most money will always be able to access the care they need, but without help, those who are less fortunate will often find it difficult, if not absolutely impossible, because the prices are so high.  And this is something that the current incarnation of the so-called "Grand Old Party" will never protest—as we've seen by the Republican-controlled House's decision to repeal last year's new health-care law.  I know it's probably just a symbolic thing, as the Senate is unlikely to allow it, but it's offensive just the same because it shows exactly how much the Republicans don't care about anyone who's not filthy rich.

If you can't pay for something that will save your life, then you'll just have to die.  Oh, and if you didn't plan ahead for that $500,000 operation that most kids don't need, you shouldn't have had the kid in the first place!  But we'd still have fought against any attempt to abort the kid because abortion is evil and every life is sacred until it's actually born.

Yes, that's definitely the moral high ground here.  For a party that's overwhelmingly populated by people who identify as Christians of one stripe or another, they do seem to be particularly willing to ignore a great many of their own religious teachings, including this passage from the first letter of John:

How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
—1 John 3:17-18

Mind you, these days it doesn't look like the Democrats are much better, especially given Obama's tendency to roll over and play dead whenever the Republicans tell him to, in the name of bipartisanship.  (Here's a hint: trying to play nice with an enthusiastic and unrepentant bully never works out well for you.  It didn't in the schoolyard, and it won't in politics either.)  Given how much influence the United States still has on the rest of the world, I am—quite frankly—a bit worried about what this means for the rest of us.  Particularly my own country, because our Conservative government apparently holds many of the same ideals as the Republicans do, and I suspect that the only reason they haven't turned Canada into Bush Regime Version 2.0 is the fact that they're a minority government* and so don't quite have the power they'd need to do it.


You know, for all that there are multimillionaires who donate what most of us think of as large amounts of money to charity, it seems to me that most of the real compassion comes from those who don't have quite as much money but who have a conscience that not only won't let them not do something to help other people, but who actually enjoy doing it.  It's not about giving "free rides" to people who don't want to contribute to society.  It's about the fact that one way or another, sooner or later most people do need a helping hand whether or not it's their own fault.  And the only way we can really consider ourselves to be moral or even just plain good people is to lend that helping hand when and where we can.  After all, we're all in this together.

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*Our election style isn't so much "winner takes all" as "the winner is the one with the most votes for their individual party, but if the other parties have, between themselves, a greater percentage of the vote, you'd better keep them happy because if you don't they could gang up on you and form a government of their own, thus booting you from power, or force another election."  The Conservatives received only 37.6% of the popular vote in our last election, but because that was a greater percentage than any one of the other Federal parties, their Federal leader, Stephen Harper, is our Prime Minister.  In the past couple of years, the Liberals (usually fairly moderate, really), the New Democratic Party (about as left-wing as we get up here—unless you count the Green Party—but still fairly moderate) and the Bloc Québécois (a sort-of centre-left party who want Quebec to secede from the rest of Canada, which would be a Really Bad Idea for everyone in practice, but which they think is a great idea in theory) have indeed threatened the Harper government with a coalition government or a forced election several times.  Funny, though, they never actually follow through on those threats...

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