Compassion Leads to Civilization
Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said that the first sign of civilization was a healed femur. It is likely in that pre-technological society that someone cared enough to do the hunting and gathering for that injured person while the bone was healing.
While I write this the U.S. Senate has taken up the latest debate on health care. Perhaps some decision will have been made by the time you read this. But as I have thought about these efforts in recent months, Margaret Mead’s words come to mind. Civilized people take care of the injured and ill in their community. I don’t want the Senate to fight partisan power battles marked by the growing incivility. I want them to tackle the issue striving to find what will best serve our civilization. Whatever shape the final health care bill might take, I hope it provides the care and compassion expected of a civilized society.
Kindness and compassion are Christian virtues. Our daily lives are supposed to be marked by acts of kindness. We are “to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” (Heb. 10:24) I am reminded by Christian teachings that I must take others into account, especially the needy, and not just think about what I’d like. I do not have the expertise to shed much light on how to provide access to the greatest number of people at a reasonable cost. I do think that as a Christian, a representative of the movement whose kindness and care for the sick led to the creation of hospitals and other health care systems, it is important to make sure my voice is heard in the debate. I think must make certain that the debate includes care and compassion and not just CBO scores, tax cuts, and other economic concerns.
It is easier when we can put a human face to the need. During my first year as a seminarian, we ran into a few unexpected medical expenses. It was less than one thousand dollars, nothing compared to today’s medical costs, but enough to empty our meager checking account. It looked like I might have to drop out of school at the end of the semester to get a better job so I might save for tuition. When the other families in the student housing got wind of our dilemma, they quickly gathered among themselves and offered us a generous gift. Fortunately, an unexpected check arrived the same day that they offered us their gift, and we were able to decline their generosity. But I still remember the feeling of appreciation that my fellow students, who didn’t have much themselves, were willing to offer what they had to help us over the bump.
We all sometimes need to use the health care system. When it is necessary, we hope to find that it is caring, accessible, and affordable. The golden rule tells us that just as we want this for ourselves, we should want it for others as well. I don’t pretend to know the answers. It’s complicated. But as Christians we must keep the virtues of kindness and compassion at the forefront of any decision.