Why Compassion Matters (more than ever)

The health of a society strengthens as the number of people who help each other increases.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Compassion unites rather than divides; it connects people rather than disconnects them. Compassion makes individuals, towns, and countries stronger…not weaker. Reporters and authors are writing, however, about “The Death of Compassion” in the United States and how the world is living in an “Age of Anger.” Politicians are discarding compassion when handling issues ranging from healthcare to immigration ‘for the good’ of our country’s strength and security, as if choosing compassion was forsaking strength.

Compassion is defined as a holistic (360 degrees) understanding of a problem or suffering of another with a commitment to act to solve the problem or alleviate the suffering. Not only do we need to continuously strive for greater understanding of problems—especially in the era of “fake news” and “alternative facts”—but also act to solve them in ways that don’t create more issues. In short, a compassionate society creates a stronger country in terms of politics, economics, and security.

Politics & Society: Simply turn on any popular cable news channel and you will quickly discover that two important sources of American political and societal vitality are dying: a feeling of unity and a sense of civility. While Gallup reported a “Record-high 77% of Americans” feel as though their country is “greatly divided,” a different survey revealed that 70% of us believe “that incivility in America has risen to crisis levels.” A democracy’s health is dependent upon the strength of its connections as well as level of trust between its citizens. A society in which its people feel divided from and behave uncivilly toward one another is a democratically weakened country; it’s as if the nation is hallowing itself out by undermining its own strength. One way to stop “The Disunited States” from happening is for Americans at both ends of the political spectrum to start following the one “core value” that most agree on: compassion. A Pew Research Center survey found that 58% of Trump and 75% of Clinton supporters agreed with the statement: “Compassion and helping others are my core values.” The byproducts of practicing compassion are the sources of democratic health: increasing civility, high levels of trust, and feelings of unity. Following compassion in our political, professional, and personal lives offers a clear path to a stronger America.

Economics & Health: In the American military, we lived the motto of “Leave no man behind”…no one was ever forgotten. Yet in American society, we not only have “forgotten men” (who President Trump often cites in speeches) but also forgotten women and children in the form of the homeless. Many American politicians and media pundits, however, are either silent about the homeless or argue that they are not worth trying to help because they are “lazy.” In some places, such as Utah and Hawaii, politicians are taking a compassionate approach to helping their homeless while also helping their state’s economy: they are building homes for the homeless. In Utah, for example, their Housing First program has reduced homeless to “a functional zero” while saving the state approximately “$8,000 per homeless person in annual expenses.” The several hundreds of lives they have changed and the millions of dollars that they saved were achieved by the simple, direct idea of providing homes to the homeless. Hawaiian State Senator and emergency room physician Josh Green is trying to create a paradigm shift in how his state addresses the issue by proposing a state bill that would allow medical doctors to prescribe houses to the chronically homeless. By clearly showing that Hawaii can reduce annual state medical costs while also extending the average life expectancy of their homeless citizens (a homeless person in America is likely to die at age 50 but a person living in a house will usually live until 78 years old), Dr./Sen. Green is making a strong economic and health case that homelessness should be treated as a medical condition rather than a social issue. If we take a compassionate approach to growing the economy, there would be no “forgotten” Americans.

Immigration & Security: Discussions, whether at a dining or conference room table, about the security of America tend to include the issue of immigration. Current American political leaders usually end their part of the discussion saying that they will build an “impregnable” wall to stop illegal immigrants and, therefore, make the United States more secure. The problem with such a conclusion is that it’s a $21.6 billion dollars solution that wouldn’t stop another 9–11 event (how many of the 9–11 terrorist illegally crossed the border?) and it doesn’t match the reality of illegal immigration into the United States. Since 2007, for example, the data clearly shows that more undocumented immigrants overextend their “legal” visas than illegally cross the border by at least 600,000 people. (The dual trends of “overextenders” increasing while the number of “border crossers” decreasing are continuing according to our own government’s most recent statistics.) A holistic understanding of illegal immigration would help address the problem more constructively and save a substantial amount of money by not constructing a “2,000 mile wall in search of a purpose.” Should we, for instance, really be hiring 10,000 new border patrol agents as President Trump recommends or find ways to better police our visas? Because we know that people do better professionally and personally when they are part of “intact” families, shouldn’t we be finding ways to keep families united rather than divided? Wouldn’t that also help prevent the rise of anti-American activists who feel as though they have nothing left to lose (once they have lost the most important part of their lives…their families) by lashing out in violent ways?

The health of a society strengthens as the number of people who help each other increases. America is stronger when we emphasize the “united” in the United States and following compassion everyday is one way we can achieve that in real world terms. Compassion is a value, virtue, and verb that unites people as it strengthens a country. Compassion matters to those who seek strength, security, and success…and it matters more than ever.

Originally published at medium.com

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