A Little Bit About Compassion (or lack thereof)

In my last post I mentioned how I am out of work.  

I had an exchange on FB today with an old friend.  I’d shared a post supporting workers’ rights.  Her response was:

“They” didnt take anything from u; it’s called a … paycheck! It’s a new day in a brilliantly rebounding economy that bends over backwards to help small business thrive. Go start one! The time is ripe! Hire someone off the burgeoning, I mean, shrinking unemplyment rolls. Be a role model; show the evil capitalist, free market business owner how it’s done. Have u ever written a paycheck for somone else? Do u have any idea what it takes to actually run a business? Sry, the incessant ‘Being Liberal’ whining is … incessant!

I was pretty hurt by this.  As I said in my reply to her, I’ve worked hard all my life.  I’ve been laid off several times, which has set me back financially each time.  My real, effective, take home wages adjusted for cost of living are less now than 20 years.  I’ve regularly put in 60+ hour weeks at salary, working hard for raises that never came (not for anyone, not just me), bonuses that were cut, and 401k and stock options that lost money.  Not because of quirks of the economy or changing markets, but because of short term strategies by company execs who were trying to maximize their own and their stock holders returns in as short a time as possibly, while ignoring planning for long term growth.  Such has been the High Tech, and many other industries of the past 20 years.

What really gets me about this is not that I’ve been forced to start all over again, looking for a job, starting at the bottom at another company, struggling to pay the rent, bills, and buy food and clothes for my kids.  This stuff happens.  I’ve been though it before, I’ll be ok.  

What really bothers me is my friend’s attitude.  The idea that I should be grateful for my paycheck (which I am), and not complain when I’m used, overworked, underpaid, and the thrown away.  Go start a small business.  Sure, let me go get those several thousand dollars I’ve stashed away to start one up.  Oh wait.  I had to use that to pay my rent and car payments and car insurance, and electric bill, and buy food after the last time I got laid off.  And don’t forget those medical bills.  You know, the ones on top of the $5,000 in premiums I paid last year.  Oh, I got a kid with special needs who requires a $60 co-pay every week when he has to get therapy?  Ah well, just be thankful I’ve got health insurance at all.  What, the $400 a moth in prescription medication co-pays?  No problem.  Just write them off on my taxes.  Maybe I’ll get an extra $1000 break this year.  

I spent time two years ago where I put in 370 hours in overtime in just three months.  I got no extra pay.  I was never thanked for all the extra work.  I didn’t get a raise or a promotion for saving my business group’s ass because of their poor planning and lack proper resources.  What I got was a whopping 8 hours of comp time.  Not even a atta-boy pat on the back.  And that is par for the course for every high-tech company I’ve ever worked for.

So to be told that I should be grateful to my company for giving me a paycheck when they work me like a horse, pay a less than inflation pay raise every year (one company I worked for no one ever got a pay raise for 4 years.  Given the rate of inflation, I lost several precent per year in income), makes me angry because it reeks of the “fuck you, you’re on your own; at least I have mine” attitude that has taken over at least 50% of the population.  I didn’t build that?  Maybe not, but we sure as fuck kept it running and made it work.  Me and millions of other workers who did the real work that made the products and kept all the businesses going.  

I’m appalled at the assumption that just because I am angry about how unfairly many American workers are being treated, that somehow that means that I think capitalism is evil.  That is just knee-jerk, Faux News regurgitated bullshit.  I’m all for capitalism, but I’m also for fairness.  When a company lays off workers, but the officers of the companies walk away with their millions, and then are hailed in Forbes as paragons of business, that’s not capitalism, that’s unadulterated greed and a misplaced sense of where the real success of a business comes from:  it’s workers. 

But the real problem with her attitude is not the economical aspect.  It is the human aspect.  The implication is that I should just be grateful and STFU.  This reeks of a sense of privilege and lack of compassion.   And what makes it hurt all the more is that I knew her to be a kind, caring, gentle person.  But that was a long time ago.  

She claims she is a Christian.  Well, I was raised a Christian; I spent most of my life as a devout Christian.  I remember the stories of Jesus preaching kindness, forgiveness, mercy.  I took joy in reading how he urged us to give to those in need.  That if someone asks for your shirt, give him your cloak too.  If you feed the poor, care for the sick, comfort those who are destitute, it is as if you were doing these things for him.  

Where are the examples of these beautiful words?  Where are they being put into practice?  Certainly not here in America, at least not by the vocal, fundamental Christians who, like my friend, seem to have no problem dismissing those in need and who are struggling and suffering.  

I spent years studying the New Testament before abandoning religion.  Rarely do I see a self described Christian acting at all in a Christ like way.  This is one of the main reasons I gave up on Christianity, and all religions.  I saw that just believing didn’t make you better or moral.   I’m not perfect, far from it.  But I try hard, every day, to ease the suffering of anyone I meet.  I work hard to support causes that help people who are in need.  I don’t just say, well I have mine, go work for yours.  I ask myself what can I do to help them help themselves.  What can I give, even if only a kind word or action, to make their day just a little brighter.  I put myself in their place and try to understand why they suffer and why they are where they are.  

I’m no longer religious, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think some religious thought can’t be useful.  There are lessons to be taught in most religions.  So, for the Christians out there reading this, please remember what Jesus meant when he said that if you do these things (feeding, clothing, caring) to the least of you, you do them to him.  But also remember that the reverse is also true: when you belittle, berate, insult, and cast aside those who are less fortunate than you, you do those things to him.  If I learned anything profound from my priests, it was that.  

That is empathy.  It is compassion.  And that is what is lacking in the words and actions of many of the pious, devout Christians that I hear about and know. 




3 thoughts on “A Little Bit About Compassion (or lack thereof)

  1. Unfortunately, my friend, there is a large segment of our society which has been steeped in a world which places blame for life’s misfortunes squarely on the shoulders of those who are suffering. It has become axiomatic in their world that if you are poor, it is because you are lazy. If you cannot find a job, it is because you don’t want to work. If you are depressed, it is because you are weak. And they also believe that they bear no human, moral or ethical responsibility to give the less fortunate a hand-up in order to help improve the possibilities in their lives. In their view, a communitarian spirit is the precursor to tyranny. It is the evil seed of socialism and dependence and will lead to a complete abdication of personal self responsibility. I find this thread which runs through our society both sickening and shameful. I hear that attitude in the views of your Facebook “friend”, and also in so many people I know. These people are both religious and non-religious. It seems to favor neither of these. But it is particularly disturbing coming from those who profess a willingness to follow to their own death the teachings of a man who preached, above all, to love your brother enough to lay down your life for him and to show compassion beyond measure to those who are the least among us. To hear such hatred and loathing come from these people surely negates any possibility that their god’s “message” will be heard, heeded and respected.

    I am sorry to read of your misfortunes. Being an atheist, I will not deign to offer prayer, or any other such paltry and hollow effort. I can only offer you the hope that empathy is not dead. It is one of the cornerstones of my life, and it drives so much of what I try and accomplish in the short time in which I will inhabit this place. I can only hope that you are able to find that empathy within your circle of friends and acquaintances, as this is what is really most able to sustain us when we are at our most vulnerable.

    Take care of yourself. You are not alone.

  2. Thank you so much for your kinds words. I too, as an atheist, believe that I have a moral duty to show compassion to others. Not because some diety or holy man says I should, but simply because it is the righ thing to do. I find it sad that people feel that goodness must come from outside themselves instead of from within.

  3. I can’t speak for others, but when I finally came to the point in my life where I shed the whole idea of doing good and being compassionate because it was an edict from on high, I felt a liberation that cannot be described in words. Doing good by others, simply because they are fellow sentient beings with whom I share a common brotherhood, became the only reason necessary to act. I really think the whole of humanity would benefit if we could all come to this same realization. Unfortunately, that will never happen. I am afraid the well has been too poisoned for too long. So we are left to demonstrating by our example that no transcendent reason is necessary to exhibit empathy and compassion.

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