Opinion

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Guest Column

The Christmas Compassion Test

By definition, government cannot be compassionate because compassion requires free will

Here is a thought for conversation around the Christmas dinner table: would you define yourself as compassionate? Let’s dive a little deeper. On a compassion scale of one to 10, where do you fall? How much empathy or concern do you show for others? The point being that compassion is your choice. You are not born with it, like the color of your eyes. It is wholly voluntary. When you volunteer at the Salvation Army, you show compassion. What happens though when the court orders someone to do 20 hours of community service? To say that a court-ordered felon showed a great deal of kindness by carrying out their community service sentence even sounds absurd. His 20-hour display of warmth and charity was something to really aspire to. Not so. Even if the felon had a change of heart and was remorseful as he carried out his community service sentence, we do not credit it as compassion, all because it was mandatory. Is it ever possible to “mandate” compassion? Teach it to your kids, model it in the work place or encourage it in society, yes, but force another human to be compassionate … that defies the meaning of the word. Agree so far?

Here is the challenge. If that is true, then we as a society and political leaders need to rethink the way we look at our justification for who we vote for or what laws we support. We cannot say we support the legislation because it was the “compassionate thing to do.” Everything that government does at the local, state, or federal level, is done with the force of strength behind it. For example, you believe that you are paying too many taxes, that there are programs the government funds that you believe are excessive, so you are only going to pay 50 percent of your tax bill. Ultimately, you are looking at jail time. The reality is government mandates. That is the very nature of the word law. It is not optional. It is not voluntary. Government creates laws that should be logical and apply to the community as a whole. When a voter or politician votes to take money from the populace by force, the motivation cannot be attributed to compassion, charity, or kindness. Consider this: a muscular man approaches a pedestrian and takes his wallet by force, removes $5 and explains to the pedestrian that there is still plenty remaining, then heads over to the corner of the sidewalk and gives $4 to the homeless man (keeping $1 for administration fees and his retirement pension). It would be an extreme distortion of the word to call this scenario an act of compassion. It has to be called something else.

By definition, government cannot be compassionate. Compassion requires free will.

However, individual politicians can and should show charity and compassion with their own time, talents and treasures, but this is entirely different from legislating the use of others time, talents and treasures. You say I am starting to rub the fur the wrong way, then let’s turn this cat around.

Mandating taxes and using force to carry out law, does not make government evil. Government has its own very distinct role, and the people of a free-will society have another distinct role. Free-will people have the role of charity and kindness, and government has been founded as the maker of laws. If people in a free-will society act by force, we call them vigilantes or worse. Citizens in a free society should not play the role of government, and government should not play the role of the citizen. Individuals in a free society are the ones that can carry out charity, kindness and compassion. Join me this holiday season in exercising true compassion and charity by freely giving of our time and treasures to a nonprofit, church, or those less fortunate. Voluntary generosity genuinely shows the beautiful side of humanity. Merry Christmas!

Matt Regier is a Republican state representative from Kalispell.

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