Acts of Compassion: Caring for Others and Helping Ourselves by Robert Wuthnow

By Robert Wuthnow

Robert Wuthnow unearths that people who are so much fascinated with acts of compassion are not any much less individualistic than a person else--and that those who find themselves the main intensely individualistic are not any much less fascinated about taking care of others. Robert Wuthnow reveals that people who are so much interested in acts of compassion are not any much less individualistic than a person else--and that people who find themselves the main intensely individualistic aren't any much less eager about taking care of others.

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Both women will be able to care for others more effectively only when they learn how better to care for themselves. Both these interlocutors have important points to make. They have diagnosed important features of our society that must be dealt with in order to understand and advance caring behavior. There is indeed a large dose of self-interest in much that we think of as altruism. There is also an important therapeutic dimension in caring—a dimension of self-knowing that is essential to anyone’s ability to reach out in love toward others.

They define the meaning of compassion for her. They give her the accep31 CHAPTER 2 tance she never received anywhere else. They never criticize her, never judge her, never fail her. They identify totally with her. They live out Tolstoy’s ideal of bread labor. Frankly, they do the impossible. How do they accomplish it? Language is the key. Marge has learned a language that makes the essential distinctions, that provides a way of defining total compassion and still makes compassion humanly possible in an individualistic world.

They reflect broader themes about what it means to be American. Like Jane Addams, we all must struggle to find out what it means to be compassionate in the unique context of American society. I believe deeply that we all struggle with that issue, whether we are volunteers or people who help our neighbors informally or just individuals who find ourselves needing community. We have to discover how to reconcile our caring for 45 CHAPTER 2 others with the pervasive individualism that so often fragments our society and our lives.

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