Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and The Death Of American Compassion

The release of POW Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has set off a firestorm of controversy across the United States.  News media members are breathlessly reporting on how the White House is in "damage control". Pundits are speculating about possible impeachment of the President and everyone seems to have an opinion on whether Sergeant Bergdahl deserted, wandered away or was actively seeking to join forces with the Taliban.

I'm not going to speculate on any of that.  Instead I'd like to focus on what I see is a disturbing trend in our discourse and indeed in the country at large. Sergeant Bergdahl's return has exposed a shocking lack of compassion by Americans.

There's a term in social work called "Compassion Fatigue" .  The official diagnosis is called Secondary Traumatic Stress.  It's usually transitory and it basically means you're so tired of helping people, you become callous.

I've experienced it. It's not a pleasant feeling.  On more than one occasion, I've felt like a client didn't deserve to be helped. Several times I've invoked the "teenager had it coming" rule for smart mouthed teens getting beat by their parents. It happens, you work through it, you learn from your mistakes.

I've worked very hard on becoming more compassionate. That's what makes the treatment of Bergdahl's return so utterly outrageous to me.

People have called death threats to Bergdahl's parents and harassed his hometown into cancelling a welcome home celebration. Calls have been so abusive to the Hailey, Idaho Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber president June Drussel said "People aren't being very American"

I beg to differ with Ms. Drussel. The people calling her office are being very American, in this new, cold, me first, screw you, America.

Over recent years because of the rise of social media, people care less and less about hurting the feelings of others. In fact they revel in it. There is no place anymore for gray areas or benefit of the doubt or just some human decency.

In recent weeks, a man was so cold and lacking in compassion that he stole the signs from Sandy Hook Memorial playgrounds and taunted the parents of the dead children.  A few months ago a judge said a 14 year old girl, who later committed suicide, was partially responsible for her rape.  This week a woman went off in a crazy racist rant. These are just three examples in a growing trend.

Even more troubling, than those individual instances, is the increase in the lack of compassion from elected officials. Cutting off food stamps for the working poor, cutting unemployment, refusing to expand Medicaid in states with Republican Governors are just a few examples.

The VA scandal is another. It takes a pretty heartless person to delay care to a wounded Vet.  Many people in politics saw the VA scandal as a great chance to attack the President and the Administration. Many of those same people say they would have left Sergeant Bergdahl in enemy hands which, if you think about it, is sort of the ultimate denial of care.

America was founded on looking out for each other, "promote the general welfare" is in the Constitution. Clearly the Founders knew that the great social contract that Americans are part of requires us to prop up those fellow citizens who need it. Instead of propping up Sergeant Bergdahl and his family, he has been brutally attacked. Some have called him a traitor, a deserter and worse.  Many have called for his execution.

People have said, what about having compassion for the families of the soldiers killed looking for Bergdahl. I'd respond to that by saying, why are compassion for the families of the dead and compassion for Bergdahl and his family mutually exclusive?

Americans used to be thought of as a great and generous people.  American exceptionalism wasn't just about how much money we made or how many skyscrapers we built. Americans were seen as exceptional because of our kindness, our willingness to help, we welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses, yearning to be free.

Now, it seems we're tired of the poor and the huddled masses, those yearning to be free.  We've got no time for them, if they can't do it themselves, too bad.  In short, we've lost our compassion.



3 comments:

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