Category: Effective Compassion

I was watching my favorite rerun on TV Land the other day, Bonanza. If you don’t know Bonanza, you should. It’s perhaps the classic TV western, and I was watching episode #68 from Season Three, “Springtime.”

One of Ben Cartwright’s friends, Jedidiah Milbank is injured during a roughousing mud-wrestling match between Adam, Hoss and Little Joe. As reparation Ben volunteers the three boys to take care of Milbank’s business for him. It just so happens that there are three tasks, so each of the boys gets one.

Adam Cartwright gets the final task and it is to evict a family from a ranch for non-payment. It seems that Milbank had set up an arrangement for the family to pay for half of the ranch up front, and the rest in monthly installments. Well, the family was a number of months behind, and Milbank was eager to foreclose.

The eldest Cartwright brother dutifully rides off to the ranch, and happens upon a pleasant but beleaguered clan. It seems that the family had tied up most of their capital in a prize bull, who had been mauled by a bear before it could sire more than a few calves. And all but a handful of those calves were drowned in spring floods. When the water pump broke so they could no longer irrigate their crops, the family was left without any source of revenue.

That’s the situation when Adam arrives. The pieces of the pump need to be repaired, but one necessary part must be purchased new and costs $200. The family just doesn’t have it. Instead of foreclosing on the home, Adam, who shares his father’s “strong moral code,” decides to help out the down-and-out family. They aren’t poor because of the lack of effort or work, but simply because of circumstances and poor decisions such as tying up capital in the risky move to buy the stud bull.

So what does Adam do? He helps the father fix the pieces of the well that can be repaired and comes up with a plan to use the pump to double the land that can be irrigated. This will potentially double the family’s crop, helping them to get their heads above water again. The family will need to sell the few remaining calves from the stud stock to pay for the expensive replacement part for the water pump. In the meantime, Adam loans the family the money to get current on their debt to Milbank, averting the disaster of eviction.

Why am I talking about this episode?

I believe it is a great example of how compassion can work within the capital market system. Certainly Milbank filled the role of the archetypal greedy capitalist, but the Cartwrights themselves own a 1,000 acre ranch and are incredibly wealthy by the standards of the day. The difference between Milbank and the Cartwrights is in how they used their wealth and power. By the letter of the law and justice, Milbank had a right to foreclose. By contrast, it was compassion that motivated Adam.

The Heidelberg Catechism, a traditional symbol of Reformed Christianity, notes that one of the reasons we work is so that we can be good stewards of our wealth. It reads, “I faithfully labour, so that I may be able to relieve the needy” (Q&A 111). That’s exactly what Adam Cartwright was doing with his wealth.

And he did it in such a way that it was oriented toward the family regaining their own financial independence. He loaned them part of the money, as a sort of nineteenth-century version of a micro-capital investment, but also made sure they had to invest what they had in their own future by selling the remaining calves.

There’s a lesson to be learned in all this. The United States is in an analogous situation with respect to the developing world as the Ponderosa and the Cartwrights were to that struggling family. We can choose to embody the “cowboy compassion” of the Cartwrights or the craven greed of Jedidiah Milbank.

A great way to invest in the future economic development in poorer nations is through micro-loan investment. Very often it is difficult to get reasonable long-term or even short-term capital loans in these countries, because of the volatility of the currency and government corruption (for more on banking and corruption, see these two issues of the Christian Social Thought Series: Banking, Justice and the Common Good and A Theory of Corruption).

Here are some groups that do micro-loans in developing economies that are worth checking out: Five Talents, Opportunity International, and Kiva.


It may not seem like it, but the settlement reached between the ACLU and the US Department of Health and Human Services is really going to be good news in the long run for the abstinence-program Silver Ring Thing.

In a deal struck yesterday, Silver Ring Thing (SRT) has been barred from all future federal grants and funding, unless it makes programmatic changes to “ensure the money isn’t used for religious purposes.” SRT has received about $1 million in government money over the last three years, and the settlement concludes a case filed by the ACLU last May.

I’ve discussed the SRT funding situation in a couple previous posts (here and here). The bottom line is this: SRT should be able to find plenty of funding from churches and religious groups to do what it needs to do. And in the process, it won’t be beholden to the fickleness of politics or the changing demands of government bureaucracy. It will be free to do what it does best: promote the desperately needed Christian view of purity and sexuality among our nation’s youth.

Blog author: kwoods
posted by on Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The February 11 issue of WORLD Magazine includes a culture feature, “Giving their names back.” Profiled in the article is Citizens for Community Values (CCV), a nonprofit in Memphis that does a victim assistance program called “A Way Out.” It’s a reclamation program of sorts, literally reclaiming women ensnarled in the sex trade industry, and giving them back their lives, reclamation evidenced by names.

The very nature of the sex industry, be it topless dancing, stripping or prostitution, requires anonymity–no names. And having no name reflects the ultimate devaluation of the human person. One of the women in this program said, “I felt like I was just a joke that God had accidentally made.”

Imago Dei may seem an odd term in this context, but in fact, it is the very core value of “A Way Out”: The reality of the imago Dei, being created in the image of God, having inherent worth, value and dignity. And the excellent way in which just two staff people, George Kuykendall and Carol Wiley empower women with so many problems and issues, oftentimes beaten, drug addicted, dumped naked on a busy street is the reason that the program was selected as a 2005 Acton Institute Samaritan Award Winnner.

While well-meaning Christian leaders protest public funding cuts for poverty and social programs, getting themselves arrested for blocking the entrance to the House office building, other effective compassion workers like George and Carol aren’t focused on whether the ultimate issue is fraud in government programs or tax cuts. Since “A Way Out” doesn’t depend on public funds, George and Carol just keep patiently returning again and again to help the hookers and strippers near the Memphis airport. They just keep connecting them to mentors who help them leave the sex trade, find good work, save money, learn how to live.

Each person has dignity, has value expressed in a name, and effective compassion programs, even very tiny ones in Memphis, are reclaiming those names, one woman at a time. This is the translation of imago Dei that matters.

To find nonprofits that embody the principles of effective compassion near you, visit the Samaritan Guide.

Wired News passes along this article by Chris Kohler, “U.N. Game Wins Hearts and Minds.” The story gives a brief overview and history of the video game created by the United Nations World Food Programme, Food Force.

Kohler writes, “The United Nations created the game after witnessing the success of the U.S. Army’s recruitment game, America’s Army.” The game takes players through six stages of work to get desperately needed food and supplies to vulnerable and malnourished populations.

Justin Roche, the game’s project manager, points out that Food Force is a non-violent game that competes with first-person shooters like America’s Army. “We really are the antithesis of the plethora of violent games that dominate the market,” he said. “Not one shot is fired, yet we are competing for kids’ time often devoted to shoot’em-ups.”

The Washington Post published an article yesterday highlighting the usage of virtual combat games to train a generation of new soldiers (HT: Slashdot). “The technology in games has facilitated a revolution in the art of warfare,” says David Bartlett, the former chief of operations at the Defense Modeling and Simulation Office, a high-level office within the Defense Department and the focal point for computer-generated training at the Pentagon.

Roche also said of Food Force,”We have many e-mails from children, saying that they would like to come and work for us when they are older. It’s wonderful to think that our little game is having this kind of impact.”

Check out my review of Food Force here. I conclude that the game is good as far as it goes: “Larger structural issues about the WFP and the UN remain outside the scope of the game, but nevertheless are reflected in the game’s guiding ethos and makeup. We can only hope that the WFP’s stated commitment to the independence of those it helps is manifested by policies that actually give those in need economic freedom and the hope of development. Addressing the root causes of poverty can be the only real long-term solution to poverty, hunger, and the devastation brought about by natural disasters.”

Got bureaucrat?

Blog author: kwoods
posted by on Monday, February 13, 2006

A friend forwarded a Website link for The Nonprofit Congress recently that was downright scary. It appears to be the epitome of good intentions fraught with unintended consequences. Or perhaps the consequences are not unintended. The Congress is an apparent call to advocacy (i.e., political pressuring) within the National Council of Nonprofit Associations.

To the group’s credit, the “why” is a forthright statement of their view and values: The time has come for nonprofits of all sizes and scope to come together. The nonprofit charitable sector has long served our nation with distinction – from helping individuals survive (through health care, domestic violence centers, meals, and other human services) to helping local communities thrive (through artistic, cultural, educational, environmental, and other enriching services). Every American has been touched at one time or another by the work of a nonprofit. Good intentions.

Unintended consequences: Rather than championing the nonprofits’ unique abilities to provide individualized solutions, the Nonprofit Congress labels such efforts “fragmented and isolated” and frankly seems to be advocating that onerous “one size fits all” strategy for which government programs are so famous.

With that perspective, however, what this Nonprofit Congress wants to DO is not surprising: forge a collective identity based on shared values; develop a unified vision and message; and exercise a collective voice.

I would argue that a primary value of nonprofits is their lack of a collective identity or message and the freedom to contribute or help based on divergent values. That reality has been revealed within the Nonprofit Panel of Independent Sector — literally battling government agencies and federal policy makers for the continued independent existence of the nonprofit sector.

But with a Revere-like ‘call to arms,’ the council invites nonprofits to join the movement, forge a “stronger, bolder, more prominent role for nonprofits.” Hmmm … sounds like burgeoning political power to me, fashioned under the banner of “but we help people and communities. We do good things.”

Peter Drucker, arguably the most visionary management guru of this century, said that it is more important to do the right thing, than to do things right. Doing the right thing — helping individuals and communities–does not include sacrificing nonprofit uniqueness to leverage potential political muscle. And those who think so need to recalibrate their compassion quotient. The nonprofit sector may be “like herding cats,” but “unionizing” isn’t the strategy to help individuals or communities.

Blog author: kjayabalan
posted by on Monday, February 13, 2006

Over the weekend, the Daily Telegraph’s Charles Moore asked, “Why should the Left win the scramble for Africa?” :

[T]he trouble with this subject – perhaps this is why the Left dominates it – is that it attracts posturing. Africa is, among other things, a photo-opportunity. As our own educational system makes it harder and harder to get British pupils to smile at all, so the attraction for politicians of being snapped with rows of black children with happy grins grows ever stronger. The dark continent is awash with “goodwill ambassadors” who fly in for a couple of days to cure Aids before flying out to make the next movie.

There is a worse posturing – the pretence that lots of government money and the interventions of the “international community” are automatically good. It is only in the past 10 years or so, for example, that the World Bank has even begun to consider the possibility that the volume of loans matters less than their quality, or that corruption might be spoiling huge percentages of its work. All across Africa lies the detritus of aid projects which – in some cases literally – ran into the sand.

Such things are not just a waste of money – they are deeply harmful. They divert power and resources to bad people that might otherwise have gone to good. There is still no proper answer to Peter Bauer’s famous dictum that Western government aid largely consists of the payment of money by poor people in rich countries (i.e. our taxes) to rich people in poor countries.

Having spent two years working for the Holy See at the United Nations and five years for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, I’ve sat through far too many discussions of Africa’s problems, nearly all of which focused on governmental solutions. Very rarely did anyone have the courage and wisdom to say that governments ARE the problem in Africa, and even more rarely did anyone say that the an expanded private sector is the most obvious solution.

Why is that? Christians are especially obliged to look after the poor but often seem to be the most willing to support further governmental interventions. But this is just passing the buck to unaccountable and faceless bureaucracies. What accounts for this socialist temptation?

My educated guess is that an ideological prejuidice against market economies has been operating in social justice circles for many decades and is only starting to be overcome. Educating people in sound economics, an undoubtedly prosaic if not sometimes downright boring subject, is surely an imperative. Too many lives in Africa have already been lost to the dreams of utopian poets.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Monday, February 6, 2006
“Stop sending us your used clothes”
“Why 30 grams of fat is good for the poor”
“Look closely and you’ll see the Virgin Mary in this tortilla”

Acton is wrapping up a three-month project that had print advertisements running in several publications: WORLD, Crisis and the Michigan Catholic. The idea is to get people thinking about the economic consequences of trade policies and the power of entrepreneurial creativity. We’ve received a lot of feedback on this project, most of which was highly positive — with a few critical zingers. (Thanks to those of you who allowed us to use your names in the comments.) If you haven’t had a chance to see the ads, please visit the special Web page we built around this campaign for more information. We’d like to get your insights. Please email us at home [at] acton.org

I fully agree with your underlying point/message. I liked the “used clothes” ad very much. But… As a non-Catholic, I am uncomfortable with the tone of your “Virgin Mary” ad (though it might play well in media markets with a large proportion of Catholics). The “30g of fat” ad also sends mixed messages — while I agree that the appearance of McDonalds is a sign of a degree of stability, protection of private property & investment, and openness to foreign direct investment and other commerce (all very good), I don’t think that American fast food is much of a blessing to the world, least of all the underdeveloped world. Freer markets and protecting the lives/property of agriculturalists would certainly help feed and enrich these people better than new McDonalds branches in major cities would (these countries are far too heavily urbanized as a result of welfarism and statism).
~ Steve Daskal

I think your ads are tremendous. As you know, I’m sure, the provision of food aid to Africa also is detrimental to the local food production market, in the same way as the sending of used clothing. Thank you for these!
~ Philip Sawyer

Great ads. They communicate a difficult concept in a respectful manner. It makes me want to know more about Acton. Keep up the good work.
~ Name withheld

Thank you for the ads. I especially identified the one titled “Stop Sending Your Used Clothes.” As a Kenyan I witnessed how the used clothes market wiped out all the three textile industries that were located in my city, Thika. Even though the used clothes were cheaper and allowed poor people to afford more clothing, it increased poverty in the area because as each industry closed down, unemployment went up impacting many families. Many of these textile industries had hired a lot of women workers. This meant that when these women lost their jobs they could no longer support their families. Many of these women were forced to either depend on men or turn to prostitution. The city began to witness an increase in the AIDS epidemic. There is a high correlation between AIDS and poverty. Poverty does not only strip off people of their dignity but it also makes it difficult for people to make good moral choices. AIDS will only be fully! eradicated when poverty, particularly among the most vulnerable,(women and children) is eradicated.
~ Name withheld

You are doing good work. You are exactly correct with the ad message. I hope they are well heard.
~ Larry Spears

As a student of both moral philosophy and economics, I have been greatly encouraged to see your ads. They are professional, research based, and just the type of thing to make a liberal’s jaw drop. They challenge some fundamental assumptions made by liberals that are completely false. After years studying under a very liberal faculty, I rejoice every time I see a relevant, timely message encouraging free market ideals. The beautifully designed posters are much more effective than some of the lame and unprofessional “research” I have seen from other organizations. Thank you!
~ Name withheld

Quite honestly, I think they are disgraceful, sinful, anti-Catholic and an abomination if one knows anything about charity and economics at all. But I suspect you really don’t care what people think.
~ Name withheld

I think this is a long overdue and an excellent way to start educating Catholics about vital essentials of economics! Keep up the good work!
~ Name withheld

I was reminded recently that Jesus repeatedly underscored the high value of seemingly very small things. The signficant results of small mustard seeds and lost coins made his parable points well but, as a mom, the story of one lost sheep made me quickly leap to the incalculable value of one lost person. On a planet of billions, many of whom live and die with scarcely any notice, Jesus says God notices … and cares. And He calls us to care.

Acton’s 2005 Samaritan Award Winner Profiles (PDF), now available online, demonstrate that large or small, effective compassion greatly values even one lost or needy person. As helpful as “best practices” from such charity programs can be, each evidences more important best principles.

Principles transcend practices, because practices are simply activities, albeit some times ones linked to impressive results. But could they be as effective in Memphis as they are in Seattle as they are in tiny Seminole, Oklahoma? That is why Acton’s Samaritan Award entry survey is based on Marvin Olasky’s 7 Principles of Effective Compassion. The manner in which an effective charity may encourage reconnecting a homeless person to family and community may look very different among programs in those three cities — quite different in demographics and culture. But any homeless program in any of those cities should operationalize this “affiliation” principle.

Dr. Olasky asks: “Does the program work through families, neighbors, and religious or community organizations, or does it supersede them?” For example, studies show that many homeless alcoholics have families, but they do not want to be with them. When homeless shelters provide food, clothing, and housing without asking hard questions, aren’t they subsidizing disaffiliation and enabling addiction? Instead of giving aid directly to homeless men, why not work on reuniting them with brothers, sisters, parents, wives, or children?

The 2005 Samaritan Award Winners represent a wide variety of social services and budgets. Some programs serve a large number of ‘lost sheep’ and some serve only a few. Yet each has demonstrated a sharp understanding and commitment to effective compassion principles. An extensive report of each may also be found at Acton’s online Samaritan Guide.

We commend them to you.

John H. Armstrong tackles the question, “How Should Government Deal with Poverty?”

He writes, “A regular argument made, at least from some evangelical political voices from the political left, is to cite numerous Old Testament texts about poverty and then suggest that one of the central concerns of a just government is to solve the problems associated with poverty.”

He cuts to the heart of such fallacious reasoning, recognizing “No one who has an ounce of compassion disagrees that Christians should care about poverty and its associated social ills. The issue here is not ‘Should we care about poverty and the problems related to it?’ Rather, the question is, ‘What is the best way to respond to poverty?’”

Armstong narrates what the “profound” influence of Ronald Reagan on his point of view, and concludes: “The solutions to poverty are to be found in the free enterprise system and the sooner we stop bashing business and wealth making enterprises the better will be our overall response to poverty in America.”

Blog author: kwoods
posted by on Thursday, January 19, 2006
Wait for government help?

A couple of weeks ago, I noted the amazing “just do it” outpouring of compassion in response to the wildfires in the Central Plains. My small home town in Oklahoma was among those areas burned or seriously damaged by the fires.

Since Nov. 1, more than 363,000 acres, 220 structures and four deaths have been attributed to these wildfires. Much of the destruction has occured on Indian trust lands within such areas as the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muskogee Creek and Seminole tribal jurisdictions, as well as more densely populated areas like Oklahoma City and Edmond, Okla. As of Jan. 14, there were more than 1,000 fires and in excess of 411,000 acres burned.

But counter to the culture, many of the people affected don’t consider “government help” as the first response. Nor should they. According to one report, Oklahoma officials said it took FEMA 12 days to approve the state’s request for comprehensive disaster assistance to combat wildfires.

Of course Oklahomans are grateful for the useful government help they do get, especially for those emergency firefighters. But much of the relief work could be simply categorized as neighbors and church folks helping each other. An article from the United Methodist News Service quotes my mother’s pastor in Seminole: “Most of the work that’s done here is the community working together … We had already started doing that when the fires came.” They’re already starting to rebuild homes lost in the fire.

“The community really depends on one another and uses the churches as a hinge point for relief efforts,” said Rev. Wayne Loftin, pastor of Davis United Methodist Church.

When the need goes beyond what neighbors and community can provide, then the next level of assistance in this case has been the conference-based United Methodist Committee on Relief. The efforts of multiple churches in multiple denominations contribute, too.

Don Oxford from the Davis church said, “We didn’t do anything heroic. We just do whatever we need to do.”

Would that we could all expand our own responses to the daily needs of neighbors around us, never waiting for international, national or even local agencies to show up. Dig in and get started. So many people are willing to help and in a way that helps people rebuild their lives. And this work greatly enriches personal relationships, quickly blurring the lines between helped and helper.