Relative to our focus on “Good People Doing Great Things” (soon to have its own site on WP) is a telling, informative editorial in yesterday’s Sunday, New York Times.

“The Compassion Gap” New York Times, Sun., Mar. 2, 2014 by Nicholas Kristof


“There is an income gap in America, but just as important is a compassion gap. Plenty of successful people see a picture of a needy child and their first impulse is not to help but to reproach. . . . .

“There may be neurological biases at work. A professor at Princeton found that our brains sometimes process images of people who are poor or homeless as if they were not humans but things. . . .  .

“Likewise, psychology experiments suggest that affluence may erode compassion. When research subjects are asked to imagine great wealth, or just look at a computer screen saver with money, they become less inclined to share or help others. That may be why the poorest 20 percent of Americans give away a larger share of their incomes than the wealthiest 20 percent.” [bold type mine]

This is a very disturbing phenomenon, but helps explain why ordinary every people are the real unsung heroes providing immediate hands-on help—directly–to those in desperate, sometimes life-threatening situations.  The rich statistically don’t do anything for anyone that isn’t quid pro quo, expecting “payback” that will enhance their status, finances or public persona.  As Kristof says later in his editorial, they don’t look at the desperate and disadvantaged as human beings, but as things. They blame and revile them for getting themselves in situations in which they are helpless and vulnerable. They blame the victim, for most often these hurting suffering people are indeed victims of forces beyond their control.

That’s sad.  Sad but true.

The following article from the Atlantic goes into greater depth on the stats and the social implications of this habitual heartless stinginess of the rich in our nation and in the world.

“Why the Rich Don’t Give to Charity,” The Atlantic, April, 2013

I encourage you to read both of these pieces.  They are short, but powerful and backed up by data and research.  They explain why it is so critical for all of us, without fanfare or in hopes of any “ROI,” to reach out in our everyday lives to the suffering and desperate, real people, right under our noses.  Charitable organizations can’t do it all and what they do is often done poorly and comes too late because of their bureaucracies and slow response time.

Also of interest and bearing on this topic:

What is love? Love can only be shown or revealed when we comfort those in sorrow.

What is Love?

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About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger. Follow me on Twitter @LangstaffEditor
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8 Responses to GOOD PEOPLE DOING GREAT THINGS “The Compassion Gap”

  1. 1WriteWay says:

    I read the NYT article but not (yet) The Atlantic article. I admit that if I had seen his original column, with the photo of the mom and child, I know I would have taken note of the mom’s tattoos. I have a degree in social work so you might say I’ve been trained to judge. But the suggestion that the child should be denied help because his mom has tattoos is beyond the pale. It’s simply not our business where, how or when the mom got the tattoos. If she’s overweight, well, that’s fairly common among the poor because they don’t have access to healthy food (and this connection between poverty and obesity has been reported so often by so many experts that I can’t believe that so many people still equate obesity with wealth). There is indeed a compassion gap in this country, and I’m not surprised that the more wealth an individual has, the less likely he or she is to contribute to charities. It often seems the more we have, the more we want, the less we share.


    • Thank you for the valuable insights, a wonderful comment that contributes much to the discussion. Couldn’t help thinking of Pope Francis’ remark (although in another context), “Who am I to judge?” Yes. Who are we to judge another human being in pain, or hungry, in distress or danger? Our reaction should not involve fault finding at all. We don’t know the how and why of the situation, we can’t let knee-jerk “blaming the victim” deter us from our duty to extend ourselves and help everyone in need or danger insofar as we are able.

      I once was approached by an obvious drug addict in a parking lot who asked me for $5 for gas to get back home to her kids. It was dinner time, and I pictured the lives any kid would have with such a mother. Awful, insecure, frightened, terrified lives. Even so, kids need their mother whatever she is. It occurred to me that she may have been lying and would use the $5 for drugs, but I took the risk, a meager $5, that she was telling the truth. I couldn’t have lived with myself after that encounter if I hadn’t.


  2. Would you be willing to do guest blogging on this subject? You’d be great.


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