Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Strength and gentleness
I'm really glad Kevin blogged on this today. I've been working on some ideas for a similar post, but have just not had the time to get around to it.

One of the points about manly virtues, especially the virtue of strength, is that it must be at the service of gentleness and compassion. Strength without the self-control necessary for gentleness and without empathy for the weak is not strength, but violence. Christians specifically have a mandate to take special care of the weak. This is the famous preferential option for the poor. One of the ways to do that (but not the only or even most important way) is to develop strength and self-control.

Nor is such a concern for the poor simply philanthropy, but rather a solidarity with the poor and the weak that means we identify with them and their suffering and are able to say "we," with them, not simply refer to them as "they." Hence, empathy is a Christian virtue which ought to condition our efforts at promoting justice and working for the common good. The sufferings of the weak should be an important motivator for our public policy and we should always consider the impact of any policy we advocate especially on the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. We really should "feel their pain." In order to do that is is quite helpful to get to know the poor as human beings, to spend time with them. People who work for public policy from within the isolated protection of their gated communities do not inspire me. I especially like the fact that someone like Fr. Richard John Neuhaus actually lived in the South Bronx for decades. It makes his positions ("conservative" as they may be) more credible.

This is why I am not completely sympathetic with the snide dismissal on the part of some political conservatives of "bleeding heart liberals." The problem with liberals is not that they are too empathetic, but that their analysis of the cause of the suffering is off-base and therefore their proposed solutions sometimes cause more harm than good. Hence, my previous post about victimhood.

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