Seven Principles of Compassion from Marvin Olasky

Monday Musing

I am busy editing a book today and have no time to write something new. So here is a great article by Marvin Olasky that I found some time ago at Kairos Journal and was waiting for an opportunity to pass on. Today is the day! Enjoy working out your compassionate expression of the gospel in the good works to which He calls you today (see Ephesians 2:10).

Seven Principles of Compassion—Marvin Olasky (1950 – )

Marvin Olasky, professor of journalism at the University of Texas, became well known in Washington when every Republican freshman in the 1994 House of Representatives received a copy of his book, The Tragedy of American Compassion.1 In this work and in its sequel, Renewing American Compassion, Olasky argued that private citizens do a better job of caring for their neighbors than government programs do. In the following “Pledge to Action,” he described seven principles of effective compassion. This is common sense guidance too often missing today.

  • Principle #1: Affiliation (Connect With Families and Community)
    Today, before creating new anti-poverty programs or contributing to a private charity, we too must ask, Does it work through families, neighbors, and religious or community organizations? . . . When homeless shelters simply hand out food, clothing, housing without asking hard questions, they run the risk of enabling an addiction while furthering the alienation at its root.2

  • Principle #2: Bonding (Help One-By-One)
    Today, when a boy is growing up without that combination of love and discipline that only a father can provide, a volunteer at a Big Brother program can show him a different model of manhood
    .  . . .3

  • Principle #3: Categorization (Treat Different Problems Differently)
    The individualized approach of effective compassion recognizes that two persons in exactly the same material circumstances but with different histories, abilities, and values may need different treatment—ranging from material help to new skills to a spiritual challenge and a push. Historically, this approach is one that produced results. Those who were orphaned, elderly, or disabled received aid. Jobless adults who were “able and willing to work” received help in job finding. And “those who prefer to live on alms” and those of “confirmed intemperance” were not entitled to material assistance.4

  • Principle #4: Discernment (Give Responsibly)
    Today, lack of discernment in helping the poor is rapidly producing an
    anti-compassion backlash, as the better-off, unable to distinguish between the truly needy and freeloaders, have an excuse to give to neither . . . we must help wisely—giving with our heads as well as our hearts.5

  • Principle #5: Employment (Demand Work)
    Historically, practitioners of effective compassion have recognized simple rules of supply and demand: if individuals are paid not to work, unemployment multiplies, chronic poverty sets in, and generations of young people grow up without seeing work as a natural and essential part of life.6

  • Principle #6: Freedom (Reduce Barriers to Compassion and Enterprise)
    Regulations designed to protect workers on the job, for example, increasingly make employers reluctant to hire those with drug backgrounds or other indications of potential instability. Small businessmen who desire to be compassionate in their hiring need to be free to take on workers without clean records; they need to be able to do drug testing and to fire workers (without legal or financial repercussions) during an initial trial period if they misbehave.7

  • Principle #7: God (Reliance on the Creator and His Providence)
    Some people think of poverty fighting like they think of dinner table discussions: it is a violation of etiquette to emphasize the importance of religious beliefs. But the facts leave us no choice: successful anti-poverty work, past and present, has allowed the poor to earn authentic self-esteem not by offering easy, feel-good praise, but by pointing them to God.8
1 Marvin Olasky, The Tragedy of American Compassion (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 1992).
2 Marvin Olasky, Renewing American Compassion (New York: The Free Press, 1996), 153-154.
3 Ibid., 155.
4 Ibid., 156.
5 Ibid., 158.
6 Ibid., 159.
7 Ibid., 161.
8 Ibid.

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