Wednesday, December 24, 2003

I read an article this week on health care policy by two writers, David Leach and David Stevens. It contains the following sentence: “Competence without compassion is not really competence, and compassion without competence is not compassion.” I tend to shy away from sayings and platitudes (to the extent that they obscure the real complexity of things), but these words - in combination with Fawce's post below - do trigger a thought that has been forming in my head for a while.... I find that in my interactions with people they fall into roughly two groups when it comes to their sense of obligation about how much they need to know before they offer an opinion - on sports, on politics, on art. One group is hesitant to have any position until they have thoroughly read through a point and the other, informed or not, takes a hard stance right away. My preference runs toward the former group but, given the demands on people's time, I wonder when you know enough to deposit an opinion. For instance, I haven't hesitated to form an opinion on the middle east but, as Fawce's post suggests, very few people know the geography of the region (I don't), the history of the place (I don't), its demographics (I don't) or needs of the average person there (four for four). So what, then, is our obligation as citizens, particularly in international affairs? Hard to say. To circle back to my quotation, though, I think that any person or organization that intends to do good work - George Bush, Joe McCannon, the World Bank, any one of thousands of (often useless) NGOs - cannot do so without being thoroughly informed...it is one thing to offer your opinion but another all together to take action in the name of compassion without knowing who you are trying to help. It seems like we lose sight of this a lot.

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