spinach_325.jpgOften as a nation and as a community, we are unwilling to face the need to eat our spinach, to make REAL changes and, yes, that we might even (horror of horrors!) have to actually sacrifice a little bit in order to achieve meaningful goals. And if our leaders are afraid to tell us this blunt truth, it is because we have shown a real tendency to elect ad infinitum those who are quickest to promise us unending “bread and circuses,” who lie that we can forever have guns and butter, that we can have our cake and eat it, too. We show a collective preference to postpone the day of reckoning as long as possible, regardless of the geometrically escalating price tag.

The politics of unlimited, unbounded compassion has taken root in America: The idea that no American, anywhere, for any reason (including lack of foresight or exercise of personal responsibility), should ever have to suffer any hardship or harsh consequences. This extends to even the minimal “burden” of paying back to society the costs of protecting them from their own folly or lack of prudence. While there may always be the need for exceptions, reimbursement is a good policy because it reinforces personal responsibility, teaches that actions (or inactions) have consequences, acknowledges that resources are neither unlimited nor free, and replenishes the community’s coffers to help others down the road.

Unbounded compassion is often not real compassion at all. It is false compassion, compassion with blinders on, because it is compassion that does not take in the entirety of the true problem. Thus, often it is highly ineffective, frequently giving the illusion of having helped while, in reality, nothing meaningful has changed. To the extent that unbounded and undisciplined compassion squanders well-intentioned effort without creating lasting results, unbounded compassion is wasteful in the extreme and harmful to the very people it seeks to help.

It is false compassion at the individual level because it ignores the debilitating effects of creating dependency, and false compassion at the community level because it tends to focus on “feel good” medicating of the symptoms of problems rather than on permanently solving the more troublesome and difficult-to-solve root causes, and by doing so fritters away society’s limited resources.

As a result, media stories about one person, one family, who might be harmed by a new initiative are enough to throw the whole system into gridlock. The media is incredibly biased toward anything that gets ratings (if it bleeds, it leads), so frequently grossly oversimplifies, does not tell the whole story, or give the entire picture (I always want to hear “the rest of the story,” the dissent, the counter opinion).

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves….”
  Cassius speaking, “Julius Caesar,” Act I, Scene ii, lines 140-141.


— Stop shooting the messenger. Make it safe for our leaders to speak bluntly, and defend them to others when they do.

— Acknowledge TANSTAAFL (There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch).

— Embrace the need for change. Accept both individual and collective responsibility.

— Become individually and locally the change you seek globally in others.

(Yeah, I know you wanted something more dramatic, something that involved someone else besides you changing, some sweeping magic pill that will wrap things up neatly before the top of the hour. Sorry, life is not a sitcom or reality show.)