Saturday, March 20, 2021

Bootstraps or Compassion?

People tend to differ along a spectrum about how much help they think we should give to our fellow humans. At one extreme, there are people saying everyone should "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" or that we need to "empower people to help themselves." At the other end of the spectrum, there are people speculating about whether our past and our environment predict our behavior and future success, and whether free will is even real.

It does help to "empower" people to help themselves, but there is a point (and we may disagree where this is exactly) where the individual is no longer able to help themselves. And frankly, the idea that anyone does anything alone, absent a context that helps or hurts them, is an illusion.

But to say that people are 100% NOT responsible for their actions is also unhelpful.  If I am to blame for my situation, that's actually great, because it means I can do something about it by changing myself.

Maybe we would all be better off seeing this as a continuum, rather than a binary phenomenon, and recognizing that different individuals will be better suited - or worse - to adapt to the environments they find themselves in. At that point the question becomes: how much suffering are we willing to let another human being endure before we say "that's not struggling leading to growth - that's just senseless misery" and we intervene?

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