Self-righteousness is commonplace among the religious and thus easily identified. Among the secular it appears able to hide itself much more easily, for reasons I do not understand. The deadliest and most corrupt form of self-righteousness I have seen these days comes from a belief in moral superiority based on the claim that one cares for the poor and the suffering. The demand for increasing government intervention from lack of skin in the game, improper understanding of what an individual is, and a desire to APPEAR compassionate rather than BE compassionate.
For any moral virtue to be claimed when taking an action something must be on the line. When the shrimpy kid sticks up for a friend to a bully twice his size we look and say, “what a man!” If that same shrimpy kid ran to the principal, we would not see the same virtue.
It’s because in one situation the kid is placing himself in a situation where he may be harmed. He will probably face a cost for his actions and is showing by his actions, “I care enough about this principle, or my friend, to willingly be harmed in defense of it”. This type of being will grow and develop and find that there is marrow in his bones and more strength than he may have realized.
The second situation the kid decides to hand off his responsibility to someone who will praise him for his “courage” in seeking his/her help and then tell the child that they were right to come to them. The child is told to feel brave despite having chosen the easiest path. The bully may be punished by the principal, but he has gained no respect for the shrimpy kid and his friend. The kid has learned from this experience that when facing a difficult situation, it’s always best to complain to those in positions of authority. He has gained a false confidence in believing that he is brave without facing any risk. Later in life he will continue to act the same way, abdicating responsibility and seeking for others to solve his problems for him while all the while holding onto his moral superiority and “bravery”.
Are you a dumb beast? A static individual who is simply the sum total of the experiences thrust upon him? Do you have free will? Do you have the capacity to change, to grow and become better?
Libraries of books have been written about free will, but I would simply say that since we do not have the capacity to prove that free will exists or does not exist it is best to assume that it does. It is better because people live more meaningful fruitful lives when they feel they are in control of it and two because if you REALLY honestly treat your friends as if they have no free will they will hate you. If you don’t believe me, try it.
So, going with the assumption that free will exists, it appears that we are in face two separate individuals. You are who are now, in this moment, but you are also the thing which changes who you are.
Nietzsche wrote much about this in beyond good and evil, which I would highly recommend assuming that you can handle having all your presuppositions smashed with a sledgehammer. Nietzsche believed that compassion for something comes at the cost of something else. Going with the two individuals in one idea, we must choose when interacting with others whether to be compassionate with who they are today or with who they can become. Many times, those two individuals are at odds. Any sane person would agree that if your friend is an addict and you see their temporary misery at not having access to their fix, you still are not justified in helping them, because who they may become is more important than who they are now. This gets harder to differentiate at times, because life is more complicated.
Sometimes suffering, INTENSE suffering is required in order for change to happen. Small fires in a forest purge off the dead wood and keep the forest healthy. If you purposefully delay the fires, then the whole forest will inevitably die. This is not to say that it is your responsibility to “burn” your friend and make them change, because in all likelihood life will do that by itself. It is your responsibility to tell the truth though and not save the dead parts of them.
Asking someone what they believe is more often than not, a pointless exercise, because seeing what it is that they do tells much more. At the risk of getting political here is a link showing that at least in 2013 we can be reasonably confident that all the talk of helping the poor is just talk, because the data powerfully contradicts the claims. George Orwell, the socialist author may have been spot on when he said that “socialists don’t love the poor they only hate the rich”. When you make a claim that it is best if the world were like X when you are not acting out that ideal, you are a hypocrite. That seems self-evident, but I think that people like to do some maneuvering and rationalizations which, in the end are complete trash. When Democrats push hard for more government programs to help the poor the burden is on them to act out what they are pushing for. This level of hypocrisy needs to be called out on a macro level, but I think that we should all look inwardly and try to see it in ourselves on a micro level.
When you claim to help someone or to want to help someone how deep are you thinking it through? Is the mere attempt to help enough? Are “good intentions” in and of themselves good?
NO, they are not.
If you claim to wish to help someone, but do not spend the amount of time to think through and observe the effects of the help you are offering then the truth is that you are not concerned with helping the individual, but in feeling as though you are helping. Sometimes appearing to be compassionate is not a show you put on for others to see, but for yourself.
If you truly care for someone, you will watch them, you will give help and then observe the results in a feedback loop that should resemble the scientific method. I’ll help with this, observe the results and then adjust accordingly. That is compassion and it may look COMPLETELY different from what you think it looks like. It may be ugly, appear to be cruel and make you feel like a bit of a monster even while you’re doing it.
It’s a common practice in elder care facilities to not do anything for someone that they cannot do for themselves. Try watching an elderly person struggle to raise a spoon to their mouth for a few minutes and not feel a strong desire to help.
But what happens when you do help?
You end up depriving them of the scraps of dignity they feel they still have in the dignity sapping helplessness of the diaper wearing elderly. You also make them even more reliant the next time they wish to eat.
Deciding to suffer through something is actually much harder than just suffering through something, because it also requires the mental energy of fighting the urge to give up. Think about your life. When you didn’t think there was any other option it was easier to do something, because you didn’t have to fight yourself on it. It was simple there was a task and you needed to do it. Sometimes giving them a choice to take the easy way out is more of a burden on them than not helping.
Keep people in your life who feel compassion and love for the best parts of you and allow the rest to die off. Treat others this way. Most likely you will not be seen as a compassionate, caring person, but over time others will see and even if they don’t, you will be living your life seeking the best for yourself and others.
And that is a noble life.