As a pediatric nurse, my mom occasionally would restrain a child to help him endure an uncomfortable procedure. Once, after assisting a spinal tap, she received the following comment from the child’s mother: “I couldn’t do what you do. I just love children too much.”
Au contraire. When empathy becomes painful, what makes a person disengage is not love but rather, self-love.
In a recent article, Thomas Sowell shows how self-love can influence the way we respond to people in need. He describes the difference between what merely feels compassionate verses actual compassion. He proves what relief workers have been saying for years: some forms of helping can harm.
Hurt vs. harm
When a dentist extracts a diseased tooth, it hurts; when it’s the wrong tooth, it harms. In 1994, congress hurt a lot of people by moving them out of welfare and back into the workforce. But they didn’t harm them. The dignity of meaningful work elevated families in chronic poverty.
Today the national dialogue about race and poverty centers upon police shootings. Media and political leaders seem anxious to offer a rhetorical quick fix: the assignment of blame for complex problems. I certainly understand the outcry over shootings, especially among people who feel they have no voice. Even one unjust death is too many. But where is the concern for root causes, including government’s complicit role?
Codependency is a dysfunctional, helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.
Trump as push-back to co-dependent leadership
The Trump phenomenon is, in part, a reaction to institutionalized codependency. I wish this movement were centered upon someone more worthy of the office, but it’s rare to see big, federal “solutions” held accountable for their harmful help. Imagine a Trump with the character to steer clear of vindictive insults. His confrontations with codependency would still be found insulting because of such broad emotional investment in it.
Millenials are among the insulted, some of whom are eager to over-correct from their fundamentalist upbringings. Writers like Rachel Held Evans have lapsed into the same old feel-good reactions, including the blame game, aimed especially at evangelicals. Their narrative seems as self-righteousness as the backgrounds from which they have fled. They fail to examine how helping sometimes harms.
The lesser of two evils?
More moderately, a friend of mine describes this election as a choice between two smelly socks, saying we must opt for the one least offensive when held to the nose. Whether Trump or Hillary carries the day, we as a country need a sea change from the emotional “quick fixes” of harmful help. Looking to one person, even a president, is one of those quick fixes.
Dare I ask…any comments?
Mike McCleery says
Amen my brother …. I know God is in control … he just wants me to do my part according to his WORD … which is perfect … AND he continues to remind me that He has and will use a LOT of “stinky socks” to accomplish his will. The sacrifice of His Son on the cross is the only why he could stand MY “stinky sock smell” …
Love you … Mike
Donna Morris says
Tim, I know you are very well read. have you read the book, Toxic Charity? I think your comments are dead on.
Tim Filston says
Yes indeed, Donna. The author, Bob Lupton, is an old friend of mine. I spent a semester during seminary working with him. He’s been in the inner-city of Atlanta for nearly 40 years, living with his family alongside some of its poorest residents. Good one!
Mike Bixler says
Your post – especially the reference to “the lesser of two evils” – brings to mind a conundrum we frequently face in business: which is worse… a flawed strategy or poor execution? A flawed strategy that’s well executed cannot generate sea change. Sea change is strategy dependent… no matter how inept the execution.
Elder, First Presbyterian Church
Thomasville, GA 31792