Compassion for the Unworthy

May 1, 2009 | 55 comments
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Can I remind us of something?

The rhetoric here and elsewhere on the bloggernacle, the Internet, and evidently in the personal lives of some of us, seems all too often to be based on the idea that there is a worthiness test for compassion.

The problem I see with a lot of the feelings expressed towards others is that they convey the idea that somehow the target of compassion must deserve the compassion somehow. We see floods of compassion for the victims of natural disasters, for those who become ill with diseases that strike at random, and we willingly dig into our pockets to help, believing that they deserve help.

But in cases where the person suffering brought the problem on themselves, or shares some responsibility for what happened to them, too often the response is far from compassionate, and many people even launch vicious criticisms because of the perceived sins of those that suffer.

It seems like in order to feel compassion for someone, we somehow must believe them to be blameless.

I’m not exactly sure where this comes from. Certainly, we can find in it some of the “us vs. them” mentality that has dogged humanity since our kind started fighting one another over resources.

We can perhaps also find in this lack of compassion in our society’s emphasis on justice and fairness. We’re always fighting for some freedom, helping some cinderella, suffering from injustice at the hands of a stepmother or sister, someone who deserves to be rewarded for the wrongs suffered. This is not to say that  justice isn’t needed. Wrongs do need to be righted. But we often go beyond justice and speak ill of those who have done wrong. This is more than just righting a wrong or warning others of a danger that they too may be wronged. Speaking ill of those who have done wrong is usually more about expressing anger or even being mean. And expressions of anger are a poison.

It is also true that we need to promote personal responsibility, even if the only wrong is what was done to the person who committed the wrong. Justice demands that everyone suffer the consequences of their actions. And there are consequences, even for sins in which “no one is hurt.” But surely our society can find better policies that expect personal responsibility without a failure to show compassion.

I do think that this lack of compassion is largely unconscious. We argue against assisting one group or another or for condemning the latest villain in the news by explaining how they are unworthy–we base our arguments not on what they will do or how our assistance might affect what they will do, but on what they have done in the past–and how that is evil. Thus withholding our compression is our revenge, not our love.

But, unconscious or not, we have internalized this view of compassion to the point that even our pleas for help are based on “its not my fault” instead of “I made a mistake.” So, the lack of compassion for the unworthy often leads them to lie about the reasons for their need.

Please don’t see this as a “holier than thou” criticism. I’m sure it is quite easy to find places where my own writing isn’t as charitable or compassionate as it should be. For example, I know that my own feelings recently about the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents haven’t been terribly compassionate. But I’ve come to realize that this lack of compassion is not only wrong, but destructive of dialog, which is why it is of such concern here on Times and Seasons and elsewhere in the bloggernacle and in society.

Political dialog is especially fraught with subjects that are lightning rods for uncharitable and uncompassionate speech. Welfare, immigration, homosexuality, the environment, drug abuse, NAFTA, and any number of other subjects all attract this kind of speech. What is particularly troubling about this speech in political dialog is that the failure to show compassion polarizes the debate. It does often animate supporters, but at the cost of any ability to communicate with or convince others.

In our society today, the lack of compassion is almost embedded in the language of political dialog. Terms like “welfare mother,” and “illegal immigrant” are laden with cultural assumptions about the subject’s worthiness for compassion. Even if whole classes of people are, in fact, unworthy (an idea that strains credibility, because these are diverse groups–its hard to imagine that not even one member of the group is at least as worthy as we ourselves are), we still have an obligation to show compassion.

Also in political dialog, there is a tendency to demonize individuals, but not always because of their actions. I dislike the partisan dialog that suggests evil or incompetence simply because of political position or party affiliation. But the demonization we see expressed is especially bad when a political figure has done something wrong or unpopular. Jay Bybee’s current situation is a good example. Yes his signature on the memo shows that he brought this on himself. But unworthiness does not excuse us from compassion.

The most disturbing thing about a lack of compassion is where it can lead us. The lack of compassion for even those who are worthy can be seen in the worst of society’s ills. A lack of compassion is a starting requirement for racism, for torture, and for genocide, among many other ills. If nothing else, exercising compassion will keep us from participating in these heinous acts.

My understanding of the gospel leads me to believe that the assumption that worthiness is required for compassion is wrong. Compassion doesn’t require worthiness. Christ’s teachings and example demonstrate that we must assist the sinner not only to repent of the sin, but to recover from the consequences of sin. His parables include the parable of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11-32), where a father has compassion even though his son is clearly not worthy of it. Christ himself showed compassion on the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:3-11), refusing even to enforce the law. We most often cite the passage in that story about who should cast the first stone, usually as an injunction against self-righteousness, but we often fail to see the lesson of compassion in the story or note that there was someone there who was without sin, and he failed to cast a stone and chose compassion over justice.

The scriptures go beyond parable and example, giving all those who take on Christ’s name an injunction to show compassion, to “mourn with those that mourn,” and “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (see Mosiah 18:9). Note that there is no exception for the unworthy. Those that mourn or are in need of comfort apparently don’t even need to have taken on this obligation themselves. Those we mourn with and comfort don’t need to be Christian and they don’t need to be free from evil.

Our Father surely shows compassion for his children, but from an eternal viewpoint. While recognizing the need for the struggles we face, he surely sheds a tear when we mourn and sends His Spirit when we are in need of comfort, even when we don’t deserve it. He recognizes that all sin, that all are in the midst of working out their salvation, and that all need His compassion, especially when we don’t deserve it.

Should we show any less compassion?

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55 Responses to Compassion for the Unworthy

  1. Michael on May 1, 2009 at 9:00 am

    “But unworthiness does not excuse us from compassion.”

    Kent,
    I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. But where I have a hard time is when the person is just plain stupid with their choices and then takes no responsibility but wants to whine about the consequences to get sympathy or attention.

    Why do such people feel the need to share with the world that they are incompetent in making basic choices in life?

    And why do they seek compassion that it is not their fault when, in fact, it is?

    How do you eliminate the emotional blackmail individuals? There sure do seem to be plenty of them.

  2. Ardis E. Parshall on May 1, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    For most of us, the real need is to practice more compassion, not to guard our wallets and tender hearts against possible abuse. That’s why it always sets my teeth on edge when discussions of Zion or the law of consecration or service within the Church turn into demands that the first order of business is defend ourselves against giving too much! Somehow I doubt that very many of us give and give and give to the point where we have to be restrained from giving lest our own valid needs go unmet.

    Besides, I have no control over the attitudes or “worthiness” of someone else. I can only control my own attitudes and actions.

  3. Ardis E. Parshall on May 1, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    … therefore, since it is a commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, if I waited for my neighbors to become “worthy,” I never would begin to live that second great commandment.

  4. Clean Cut on May 1, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    An important, and always appropriate, reminder. Thank you.

  5. Kent Larsen on May 1, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Michael (1), I agree that it is hard when someone isn’t being responsible. But compassion doesn’t relieve them of responsibility, and often the most compassionate act is to help them become responsible.

    I think the way to address this is to think about what is going to be in their eternal best interest. Compassion means that you care for the person, for their well being.

    But, even saying this, I recognize that this can be quite frustrating, as you try to help but avoid being taken advantage of.

  6. Dan on May 1, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Kent,

    Is there a difference between having compassion for someone and trying to hold that person accountable? What does compassion mean? Does it mean we hold back the punishment of the law?

    I mean, that’s not my understanding. I think it is similar to how I see forgiveness working. To forgive someone does not make that person less liable for punishment from the law. To forgive someone who has offended you is meant for YOU not for them. They still have to be judged under the laws of man and the laws of God. The act of forgiveness is meant for the aggrieved individual to gain peace, not for the criminal to be set free (though of course the laws of men and the laws of God can also apply forgiveness, if there is already an established way for justice to still be paid—in God’s sense, that would be Christ’s atonement). I can have compassion for individuals I still wish to see tried for their crimes. The point of going after someone who committed a crime is to protect the rule of law. If that individual seeks to remain in their place, without accepting their guilt, then forcible action must be taken. That’s the rule of law, Kent. Applying such actions does not decrease one’s compassion toward another.

  7. Kent Larsen on May 1, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Dan, I actually deleted a paragraph from the above post because it didn’t quite fit. In that paragraph I called Compassion and Forgiveness sisters, because they are so similar. A principal difference I see is simply that forgiveness is something we do when we have suffered because of the wrongdoing of others. Compassion doesn’t require that we have suffered from wrongdoing. I don’t see compassion making anyone less accountable. [On the other hand, Christ clearly helped the woman caught in adultery to avoid punishment, even though there was someone present without sin who could "first cast a stone."]

    The main issue I’m worried about here is simply that we don’t show compassion when we should. Our society has developed an obsession with demonizing publicly those who have done wrong. Its one thing to report the wrong and opine about what should happen. Its quite another thing when we go beyond that.

  8. Dan on May 1, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Kent,

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ll tell you what gets me riled up about people like Bybee (I don’t want to go on that tangent here, but just mentioning him). He, and numerous others before him, are going to get away with it. I can’t have compassion for people who knowingly break the law and don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. If the justice system ran its course, tried Mr. Bybee (and others like him), and found him innocent, I would be fine with it. If they found him guilty, I would be fine with it. If the justice system did this, for the elite of this country, those with political power, then I would not have a problem with it. And I can only speak for myself, and not others. I get the feeling that I’m supposed to show compassion for some people just so that they don’t have to go through the system, through the ringer to be proven guilty or innocent by the justice system. I find that to be unfair, and a cheating of justice. Surely God would not agree to something like that. I recall in the Book of Mormon a heavy discourse about how mercy cannot rob justice.

    If the wheels of justice have become so corrupt in this nation of ours, the compassion becomes harder to share with others, particularly the elite of the country. They get away with it, Kent. It is particularly hard to have compassion on such people.

  9. dh on May 1, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    I believe that anger is poison too, but I also have been working out in my mind the degree to which humans can think critically in the aggregate and be able to judge things on a case by case basis. I tend to think that there is a sociological good to “casting aspersions” at times (sorry, I couldn’t think of a better term).

    It seems that there is a real benefit in having a stigma to certain actions. For example, the stigma that now accompanies racially insensitive words and deeds has revolutionized behavior in our country in less than half a century. The grandkids of people who thought and acted in racially insensitive ways find such behavior appalling—both publicly and privately. The stigma created by opinion makers and elites has actually changed the way people think and I believe this is a good thing.

    Many people are followers when it comes to judging what is right and wrong. They don’t sit and ponder about it (or if they do, the cues they receive from others still affect and often override their prior thinking).

    I think the stigmas that used to go with things like unwed pregnancy, bankruptcy or being on the dole are was good even though it can have destructive and unfair consequences in particular instances. It seems that the moment we try to refrain from painting with a broad brush, many people will latch on to the argument that they too are an exception and then personal responsibility in the aggregate is dealt another blow.

    So what does “stigma” have to do with lack of compassion? I think the answer lies in the fact that without reproof, chastening and embarrassment, some acts will flower. I do believe that we should save such reproof—or stigmas—for those behaviors that tend toward the worst in us. I believe that we should also rid ourselves of internal hate, even though we may act sternly in public on certain topics. An example of this is William Seward (recorded in “Team of Rivals”) who was thought to be unfair and austere because, unlike Lincoln, he rarely granted clemency but was one day seen sobbing alone in his office by a surprised assistant, crying for God to help him to continue to do his duty
    (this after he had rejected a request from a sobbing family of a condemned soldier). My personal tendency is to admire Lincoln, but if Lincoln-like compassion always rules the day then social order seems to break down.

    Hm… am I having a super judgmental moment or am I on to something here?

  10. dh on May 1, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Sorry for the typos…your compassion would be appreciated.

  11. Clayton on May 1, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Dan,

    You said: “The point of going after someone who committed a crime is to protect the rule of law. If that individual seeks to remain in their place, without accepting their guilt, then forcible action must be taken. That’s the rule of law, Kent. Applying such actions does not decrease one’s compassion toward another.”

    How do you square this thought with the issue of illegal immigration? A main accusation against those who want people in this country illegaly to be deported is that they have no compassion for the plight of those individuals.

  12. Ardis E. Parshall on May 1, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Maybe you’re on to something, dh, but on at least one level it’s meaningless. It’s like reminding us of our duty to breathe and eat and sleep. I don’t know anybody who has any trouble “casting aspersions” — that’s as natural as breathing, and it’s the first behavior that occurs to just about anybody at just about every opportunity.

    Very few of us have any real calling to make the personal judgments you enumerate, do we? Maybe you’re a bishop or a civil judge or the elected official who has the responsibility to outline policies for the best use of public resources, but I’m betting that you’re more likely just like me — you’re limited to sustaining or voting for officials in those positions, and otherwise your judgments are made about people you read about in the news, or those you meet personally in the course of a normal private life.

    What purpose does it serve to voice your disapproval for unwed motherhood, or apply whatever treatment represents stigma against the family in your ward who is drawing welfare, or otherwise “reprove, chasten or embarrass” a fellow human being?

    That’s natural. That’s easy. That’s wrong. That’s why we’re called to exercise more compassion than might be easy for us, and leave the scolding to those who know more of the story than you or I ever will.

  13. Kent Larsen on May 1, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Dan (8) wrote: “I can’t have compassion for people who knowingly break the law and don’t want to be held accountable for their actions.”

    Really? I think you should. Divorce compassion from justice. The one doesn’t need to influence the other. You can still believe that someone in the public eye like Bybee needs to be prosecuted, while having compassion for them also.

    If the wheels of justice have been corrupted in the case of the torture memos (or in any other case), then focus on the actions and urge that the individuals be prosecuted. We have to avoid letting our outrage over immoral action be turned into contempt for the individuals who have committed wrongs.

  14. Kent Larsen on May 1, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Oh, I should add that I, too, have a hard time with injustice and those committing injustice getting away with it.

  15. dh on May 1, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    I guess we should define whether we are talking about directly scolding people, scolding them behind their backs or making public pronouncements about unnamed infractors in general (but of a nature that will invariably embarrass certain individuals and possibly give others feelings of justification to do it personally).

    You are correct Ardis, I am in none of those positions but I fear if I were that I would be just as disinclined to scold others as I am now. I can’t remember my parents casting aspersions on people either (publicly or privately) and yet somehow I have been socialized to believe that certain behaviors are wrong and terribly shameful. I am also beginning to apprehend that many people are increasingly not shamed by such deeds and so I have thought a lot lately about how such values are transmitted.

    I agree that society seems to always have a steady amount of anger & invective (though what the anger is directed at may change). I also think that what a person abhors most (whether its being judgmental or being too lenient) is often based on their own personal experience and what they feel is a greater nusiance at any given time. But as far as specific individuals go, I know many people for whom criticizing others does not come easily.

  16. Kent Larsen on May 1, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Clayton (11) wrote: “How do you square this thought with the issue of illegal immigration? A main accusation against those who want people in this country illegaly to be deported is that they have no compassion for the plight of those individuals.”

    I can’t speak for Dan, but I do have an opinion of sorts.

    First, you are better off divorcing the idea of compassion from justice. Showing compassion doesn’t mean that the law must be frustrated. That can happen, but doesn’t have to.

    In terms of illegal immigration a lot of compassion can happen simply by improving how detainees are treated, and from increasing the number of people who can be let out on bail from detention. More can be done by giving immigration judges reasonable discretion in reaching their decisions. Still more can be done by looking at the law and changing it to make the law more compassionate (assuming you think that the law is moral in the first place). Compassion could also take the form of visiting and talking with those in detention, encouraging them in weathering their trial.

    None of the above subverts the law or lets anyone “get out” of the consequences of coming here illegally or overstaying their visas.

    Of course, I do have to refer you to the case of Christ and the woman caught in adultery, where Christ had compassion and the woman suffered no punishment in this life. I take this to mean that in some cases mercy/compassion should overrule the law.

  17. Ray on May 1, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    We all are unworthy, so I favor compassion for the unworthy.

  18. DavidH on May 1, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    King Benjamin thought that justice should be divorced from compassion when we are giving (but then King Benjamin was a liberal, soft hearted democrat). Mosiah 4:16-18: “ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just— But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.”

  19. Clayton on May 1, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    #16

    Thank you, Kent. Those are all very good thoughts.

  20. Cynthia L on May 1, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    Thanks, Kent. I was doing some soul-searching along these lines after the Bybee thread.

  21. Cameron Steinbusch on May 1, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    I think it was Bonhoffer or Elder Stephen L Richards who said, “No to Sin, Yes to the Sinner”. Help them to not repeat the problem and help them again and again.

  22. Jay s on May 2, 2009 at 12:00 am

    Kent,
    Thank you for such a wonderful thought provoking post.

  23. Ray on May 2, 2009 at 12:24 am

    Kent, you might be interested in something I wrote last year after the Prop 8 firestorm:

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2008/11/proposition-8-and-presidency-week-of.html

  24. Alison Moore Smith on May 2, 2009 at 3:54 am

    Speaking ill of those who have done wrong is usually more about expressing anger or even being mean.

    What I want to know is why you’re speaking ill of those who lack compassion? Shouldn’t those lacking in compassion be given just as much compassion as the other unworthy?

    Judging people for being judgmental is just so circular. :)

  25. Dan on May 2, 2009 at 6:56 am

    Clayton,

    #11,

    How do you square this thought with the issue of illegal immigration? A main accusation against those who want people in this country illegaly to be deported is that they have no compassion for the plight of those individuals.

    I think the rule of law still has to be enforced. Compassion is the “how” you enforce that law. I’ve seen reports of FBI storming particular companies like in Kansas and rounding up hundreds of illegals and mistreating them. Clearly uncompassionate.

    Most of my anger tends to be focused on those who rule our country, who know the laws, who have taken oaths to uphold the laws and then find ways to break them and get away from the consequences. I find it is very hard to be compassionate toward them.

    Kent,

    #13,

    Dan (8) wrote: “I can’t have compassion for people who knowingly break the law and don’t want to be held accountable for their actions.”
    Really? I think you should. Divorce compassion from justice

    I should rephrase that. It’s not that I “can’t” have compassion for them, but it is very difficult to have compassion toward them. But I’m more interested in justice anyways. And I don’t really care where it leads, to whom it leads. If it leads to Mr. Obama breaking the laws, so be it. I’m really not partisan (though most of my anger these days has, admittedly, and justifiably, been directed at the Republicans).

  26. Kent Larsen on May 2, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Allison (24): Touché.

  27. Kent Larsen on May 2, 2009 at 7:48 am

    Dan (25): I agree that it is hard. But righteous anger is still anger.

    And I maintain that it is possible to have both: to seek justice while showing compassion to the wrongdoers.

    I think that is one of the principles that non-violent civil disobedience is based on.

  28. Thomas Parkin on May 2, 2009 at 9:10 am

    I’m constantly tempted in online discussion to two things. First is to be flippant. The second is to lack compassion for other people and to be overly aggressive with them. It is so easy to think of them as only words,- you know, annoying words.

    We categorize to reduce and dismiss. We do it with ideas, situations, to maintain to ourselves an illusion of understanding. When we do it to people,- the reality of which are always rich beyond what we imagine with histories and potential futures, difficulties, limits and capacities, contradictions,- we do a very great blinding disservice to the truth. ~

  29. aloysiusmiller on May 2, 2009 at 9:41 am

    One of our biggest compassion failures is ignoring unworthiness. If we are truly compassionate we help the unworthy to repent. It is part of our own ongoing repentance to help others come to God. D&C 18:15-16

  30. annegb on May 2, 2009 at 10:29 am

    You make a very good point, Kent, and have given me pause. I used to be more tolerant. I wrote a column defending illegal immigration a couple of years ago, after a trip to Mexico and seeing what those people are running from. Since then, while researching a judge for another column, I realized how many violent felonies are committed in my community by illegals.

    It’s really hard to find a middle ground if you’re on the receiving end of societal problems due to illegal immigration, which is just one example of the way lack of compassion has cropped up in our rhetoric.

    But your words have given me pause….

  31. Lidell on May 2, 2009 at 10:54 am

    I’ve often thought that the heaviest burden of choosing to follow Christ is the fully conscious choice to be compassionate WITH full knowledge that when this exercise of compassion is taken by others to be an argument for compassion, they will crucify you … AND that you must embrace the understanding that this crucifixion is not only okay but necessary. It indicates we would give all for Christ, even if that means losing. This is why when a blog thread with dialogic exchange becomes a contest to win, it feels so un-Christian. The Christian heart may well try to persuade … but must either swallow hard or seek for the grace to be accepting of the inevitable loss in the contest of opinion. This is not pessimism, I think. But I think it is a fundamental requirement of all Christians. Please take this as mere musing along with the rest of you. This is just where my mind has often gone and represents the conclusion I’ve often come to.

  32. Kent Larsen on May 2, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    aloysiusmiller (29), right, kind of. IMO, the broadest definition of a voyeur is someone looking for private information/views of what is normally private. Unworthiness is often private information.

    I guess what I’m saying is that yes we do need information about unworthiness, when that information is public or when we need to know because of our relationship with the person who is unworthy (I think this includes some information about public figures–but I don’t want to get into arguments about exactly what information). BUT, there are a lot of situations when someone’s unworthiness is simply none of our business.

    Remember the Mormon Creed is, “Mind Your Own Business.”

  33. Rob Perkins on May 2, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Allison (24)…

    Naming a wrong is not the same as speaking ill of the person committing the wrong.

  34. aloysiusmiller on May 2, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Kent (32) I suppose that this whole thread is moot because we don’t know anything about anyone else’s worthiness and without knowledge we couldn’t be withholding our compassion because of something we don’t know could we?

  35. Blake on May 2, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Kent: Well said and your points are all well taken.

    Dan: I get that as the # 1 cheerleader for the DNC you don’t have the capacity for compassion for any conservative even while spouting that your political philosophy is based on compassion. Go figure.

  36. James Palmer on May 2, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    A friend of mine now in Africa serving a mission with his wife wrote “It is easier to talk about Missionary work than to do it”. The same holds true for compassion. Two points: a) When you have six to twelve illegal immigrant families living in your home and you are supplying all of their medical, educational and physical needs then you would qualify for a medal in Compassion. Resources are finite but the needs are infinite. b) As for Bybee (mentioned by others) since when is harsh treatment considered torture? There were no beatings, broken bones, lost fingers, tongues, ears, permanent physical damage. etc. Life is harsh and seldom is there anyone to help alleviate our suffering. Case in point: During the Sunday morning session of conference President Monson spoke of a widowed sister who was forced to travel 1,00 miles from Prussia to Germany with her 4 young children with little in the way of food and clothing. Along the way she buried all four children and dug their graves with a spoon and her fingers. Each had died from starvation and/or exposure during the journey. Where was the compassion for her and her children? There were no angels to bear her up! I am sure she sought relief but found none. I am sure she knocked yet no one answered. I am sure she ask but no one gave, not even heaven. So in the end I commend your feelings but I would rather see deeds rather than words.

  37. Brad Kramer on May 2, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Yes, Kent — we need more compassion in our interactions.

    Blake (and believe me, I mean this with all due compassion), we all get that you don’t have the capacity for compassion for people like Dan.

    At least where compassion fails, we have irony as a consolation.

  38. Alison Moore Smith on May 2, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Naming a wrong is not the same as speaking ill of the person committing the wrong.

    Ah, good. So naming illegal aliens what they are isn’t the same as “lacking compassion.” I’m relieved. But them what prompted the post in the first place?

    Kent, as I’ve pondered over your thread today (while expressing sincere compassion for one throwing up kid after another), I came to the conclusion that I’m not sure what you are suggesting in a practical sense.

    Here’s my problem with Mormons and the “be nice” mantra. When we insist on some nebulous idea of “compassion” or “kindness” we often forget that in extending that supposed generosity, there is often a forgotten victim who is further victimized.

    On my list of reading this month is a book The Forgotten Man. My understanding is that it addresses the New Deal and how the benevolent government selflessly and compassionately gave to the downtrodden, without seeming to realize that it was really the forgotten worker in the middle who actually paid the price.

    Similarly with the illegal alien issue (and as annegb addressed) it’s one thing to be sympathetic to the plight of someone trying to support a family and another to allow citizens to continue to be harmed by those who break the law. Often the “compassion” for the former simply does lead to behavior that further victimizes the latter.

    This is precisely why most of the victims rights groups have been formed in our country. We spend so much time and money having “compassion” and protecting the rights of perpetrators, that we forget the innocent victim standing in the corner.

    As long as we’re throwing around “compassion,” could we at least have a balance?

  39. Tiffany on May 2, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    This topic has really torn me. On one hand, I wonder, who are we to judge who is worthy or unworthy of compassion? Often as we come to understand a person’s story, I think we are more inclined to feel compassion.

    But I am inclined to consider Allison’s comment. Because often compassion for the unworthy can diminish and dismiss the victim. For example, my uncle is a pedophile. He has molested many cousins and other children. My grandmother chose to exercise her compassion and support for her son, directly ignoring the victims of his abuse. They continue to receive no compassion or support, while the uncle, the perpetrator, receives support and compassion from his parents.

  40. Blake on May 2, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Brad Kramer: “we all get . . . ” Nice. I forgot that you were the one to speak for everyone . . . or was that the “royal we” that you so blithely assumed? Believe me, I have nothing but compassion for Dan. As long as he is willing to judge and condemn without the capacity to assess the complex legal issues involved, I suppose I’ll just thank God that neither he nor you are my judges.

  41. Brad Kramer on May 2, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Mea culpa, Blake. It was the “royal” we.

  42. Dan on May 2, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Blake,

    As long as he is willing to judge and condemn without the capacity to assess the complex legal issues involved, I suppose I’ll just thank God that neither he nor you are my judges.

    Ah, but there’s an assumption built in to this assessment. You assume that I cannot assess the complex legal issues involved. You assume that anyone that can assess the complex legal issues involved would naturally reach the same conclusions as you. That’s a pretty weak assumption to make.

  43. James on May 2, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    D&C 64:10 pretty much sums it up. “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” To save our own souls we have to forgive the trespasses of others. And it doesn’t matter if the offense is real or if we are just offended by something that another did without malice. We just plain have to forgive. In order to forgive, I think that we must have compassion for those who have offended us. That is very hard to do. I think that forgiveness and compassion may well be one of the greatest trials of our lives.

  44. Bean421 on May 3, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Kent this is a great post. Thank you for your thoughts.

    My question is why does it seem that compassion for the victim and perpetrator are mutually exclusive? In my experience they are not. Yes, it can be difficult, but punishing the offender forever is not having compassion for those who’ve been trespassed against.

  45. Kent Larsen on May 3, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    aloysiusmiller (34) wrote: “I suppose that this whole thread is moot because we don’t know anything about anyone else’s worthiness and without knowledge we couldn’t be withholding our compassion because of something we don’t know could we?”

    I’m not sure where you are getting this. But knowledge is almost always imperfect (at least in this life). Even more reason to have compassion for others, I think. We can’t know what they were thinking or why they did what they did.

    But, I do think a certain amount of knowledge is needed (at least who and what happened) for there to be compassion.

  46. Kent Larsen on May 3, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    James Palmer (36) wrote: “So in the end I commend your feelings but I would rather see deeds rather than words.”

    Hmmm. I do agree that deeds are more important than words. But words are not a bad place to start. They are a kind of deed, and one that can be moderated to show compassion by everyone. Once we get people showing compassion in their words, then I hope compassion in their deeds will follow.

  47. Kent Larsen on May 3, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Alison Moore Smith (38) wrote: “Ah, good. So naming illegal aliens what they are isn’t the same as “lacking compassion.”

    I realize you are being sarcastic, but let me reinforce your point in a more explicit way. There are certainly terms that carry cultural and emotional baggage with them, and simply using them is almost always demonstrating a lack of compassion (and often also good manners). “Nigger” springs to mind as an example. While “illegal alien” isn’t quite as bad, it certainly has a certain amount of baggage.

    Alison later said: “Here’s my problem with Mormons and the “be nice” mantra.”

    Believe it or not, I’m not a fan of the “be nice” mantra either, despite what the post above sounds like. The “be nice” mantra smacks of insincerity or unbridled optimism not tempered by critical and realistic thought.

    As for your larger point about “spending so much time and money having “compassion” and protecting the rights of perpetrators, that we forget the innocent victim standing in the corner,” I can’t quite agree. I don’t think compassion is about helping anyone avoid the consequences of their actions. I think it is possible to be compassionate and support the law. It is possible to be compassionate to the man on death row, and still see him executed.

    Regardless, I do think that the “illegal alien” issue, as you call it, is perhaps too close an example to something you feel strongly about to be an effective example for discussion. Your comment still feels to me like you are trying to win your point about “illegal aliens.”

  48. Kent Larsen on May 3, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Tiffany (39), your grandmother was NOT showing compassion, IMO. In the highest sense, compassion can’t be shown when your only concern is the here and now. To truly show compassion, your grandmother needed to be concerned with her son’s eternal salvation and well-being, NOT just what happens now. True compassion helps the pedophile to overcome his evil and practice it no more–because that is in his best interest eternally.

  49. Kent Larsen on May 3, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    James (43), I think you are basically there. I would only add that while forgiveness isn’t required when there is no offense (the interpretation of D&C 64:10 is usually that it means we are required to forgive all men who offend us), I think if we follow your logic, we should also have compassion for all men, and that would include those who have not offended us.

  50. Kent Larsen on May 3, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Bean421 (44), if I gave the impression that I thought “compassion for the victim and perpetrator are mutually exclusive,” then I apologize. I do not think that. If other commentors have done that, I agree that they are wrong.

    Its a little like when you have more than one child. When they fight, you usually find you have to punish both of them (in my experience) AND you usually find you need to have compassion for both of them. Who is the victim and who is the perpetrator is mostly irrelevant for the punishment, and always irrelevant for the compassion.

  51. Tiffany on May 4, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Kent, I misinterpreted your statement about compassion, which is why I used the example of my uncle and grandmother. I felt like that is how you were defining compassion.
    I rather agree with your viewpoint that my grandmother hasn’t really shown him true compassion because it is not allowing him to go forward in the repentance process, to pay for his crimes, and move on with his life. He’s in a holding pattern, unable to come clean from his past or progess to a better future.

  52. liberty on May 4, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    If Tiffany’s grandmother is not showing true compassion by standing in the way of the repentance process of her son, then are LDS Bishops guilty of a lack of compassion by failing to encourage illegal immigrants who need to repent of violating the law of the land? (I know, a very hot topic.)

    As we have seen, compassion can’t be treated as an absolute without robbing justice. In fact, compassion for the perpetrators of serious (and even some not-so-serious) crimes could even further harm victims and essentially destabilize society.

  53. ceejay on May 10, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Should I show compassion to my son and other spoiled, obnoxious Americans –by supporting closed borders?

    Or should I show compassion to people from other countries that have no authorization to enter our country –by supporting open borders?

  54. Kent Larsen on May 10, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Ceejay (53), I suspect both of these have their just and unjust aspects, so, neither is truly worthy. Both therefore deserve compassion. The creative difficulty with this situation is how to show compassion to both.

    I’m afraid that neither opening nor closing the border will fit the bill.

  55. Cameron on May 14, 2009 at 3:18 am

    A really good post Ken, I think we all would do well to remember this. I think the main problem with linking compassion and worthiness is that we deny the Atonement. We are all sinners and require the mercy of the Atonement to be worthy. Christ suffered for the unrepentant as well, even though they won’t or haven’t yet accepted him.

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