Recently, I shared my thoughts on compassion. More specifically, on how irritated I get when Republicans are portrayed as the party lacking compassion while the Democrats have it in spades. Their definition of compassion, however, is this: taking money from their neighbors and giving it to people they perceive to be in need.
As I pointed out, that’s not compassion. And it’s certainly not always good policy. It’s egotistical and prideful (the do-gooder probably feels very virtuous).
To illustrate this point, let me use an example involving a pet peeve of mine: drivers who wave on left-turners while a long line of cars remain backed up behind this so-called “do-gooder.”
“Good Sam” arrives at a red light. Numerous drivers behind him wait patiently with him for the light to turn green. Across the road, an oncoming driver signals he wants to make a left. The light turns green. Instead of proceeding through the intersection, Good Sam smiles and cheerfully waves on the oncoming left turner. Left turner eventually gets the message and creeps through the turn. Good Sam goes on his merry way. The light turns red again, and the poor drivers behind Good Sam have to wait through another cycle.
Now, chances are that Good Sam feels awfully satisfied as he tootles down the road. He helped a stranger! He “paid it forward.” He perpetrated a “random act of kindness.” He’ll probably glow all day with inner sanctimony. But for all he knows, the left-turner could have been a drug dealer on his way to a score and the driver in back of him who then had to wait through another light cycle could have been a mother rushing her sick child to the doctor. Good Sam’s “act of compassion” was therefore an act of egotism, whose “good” result was making Sam feel good about himself.
Okay, so maybe I’m taking this pet peeve of mine too far. But the point is this: you don’t have the right to think of yourself in terms of mini-Mother Teresas if your “acts of compassion” actually end up hurting people who are forced, against their will, to participate in your crusade.
As I’ve stated, Republicans have to fight back when this compassion argument is floated – or its reverse, which is to call conservatives “greedy” or “stingy” or “miserly.”
This is a steep hill, to be sure. But the Sisyphean nature of it only became clear to me two days following the election. As I puzzled out the question–how can the GOP communicate more effectively that they are not lacking compassion—I heard a news report of the sentencing of Jared Loughner, the killer who tried to assassinate Democratic Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
Memories of that sad day returned. And with them, the finger-pointing on the left, the blame heaped on conservatives for their nasty and hateful rhetoric that obviously pushed this addled soul over the edge. And, speaking of addled souls, the memory of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooter came to my mind. I won’t mention his name—such killers don’t deserve the notoriety. But I will remind readers that a major broadcast network allowed one of its reporters to falsely claim that the shooter might have been a Tea Party member.
Then it hit me. The left, even the mainstream media, don’t just think we’re lacking in compassion, a sin of omission. They think we’re willing and able to commit sins of violence. In their eyes, we’re not just greedy. We’re murderous. No wonder conservatives have a hard time getting people to listen to them.
The enormity of the challenge became clear. For decades now, conservatives have turned the other cheek, have allowed liberals and the media to define them as greedy and stingy, and now, the problem is worse, much, much worse. We are reflexively connected to murderers.
This must stop. Every chance we have, with a unified voice, conservatives must decry these false accusations. We must call for the resignation of media personnel who unfairly perpetrate egregious connections between violence and conservative ideology. Then, maybe, we can work on that image problem related to compassion.
Libby Sternberg is a novelist.