Government Mandated Benevolence

by | Nov 19, 2002

Q: I agree with you that there’s too much emphasis on self-sacrifice in today’s world. At the same time, people are often harsh and cruel to each other in everyday life. I don’t just mean terrorists and snipers; I also refer to people who don’t even do simple things for each other, such as give […]

Q: I agree with you that there’s too much emphasis on self-sacrifice in today’s world. At the same time, people are often harsh and cruel to each other in everyday life. I don’t just mean terrorists and snipers; I also refer to people who don’t even do simple things for each other, such as give you your mail if it was sent to their house by mistake. Your thoughts?

A: It’s a seeming paradox. On the one side, we’re all told that is is our ‘duty’ to take care of everybody else. It comes from every quarter: Hollywood, the government, religion, academia, psychology. At the same time, everyone is meaner to each other than might or ought to be the case.

The reason for this paradox is that one causes the other. The more everyone is told — and believes — that he is everybody else’s keeper, the more he will recoil against being that way, even in situations where it’s quite easy and non-sacrificial to be kind or benevolent (such as giving someone their mail when you receive it by mistake).

It’s a vicious cycle, too. The more people act unkindly towards each other, the more that religious, intellectual and political leaders tell us we must take care of everyone else.

Hospitals, for example, have been experiencing financial problems for decades because of government involvement in medicine — regulation which treats hospitalization as a “free” right by the government. (It’s the same principle as the government declaring your personal living room a “free” right by the government, for homeless people who need shelter).

As a consequence of this government-imposed altruism, hospitals have had to struggle more to stay solvent. Overworked hospital staff are less benevolent than in the past, and less inclined to treat people free-of-charge when they don’t have the money. The more the entitlement mentality towards health care grew, the more rude hospitals and doctors became towards the public at large. The end result? The government now legally requires hospitals to treat everyone on demand in emergency rooms, while the hospital still remains responsible for footing the bill. Consequently, many hospitals are going bankrupt and people are complaining about the treatment they receive even at well-respected facilities such as George Washington University Hospital and Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C.

The more we’re told we are everyone’s keeper — regardless of circumstances, facts, and choice — the more we resent it. The more we resent it, the less kind and benevolent we’re going to be in situations where it’s easy to be kind. The only way to break the cycle is to stop believing, to stop telling everyone else and to stop having the government mandate the idea that everyone is responsible for everyone else. No such thing could be true, and no such thing should be true. The extent to which we pretend otherwise is the extent to which the world around us seems increasingly malevolent.

The lesson: the government can and will legislate a lot of things; but the government can’t legislate kindness and benevolence.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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