Taylor Tomasini

This conversation is closed.

What are examples of where we've used (as a society) our intellect but not our compassion?

From Jacqueline's "The Blue Sweater":

"If you move through the world only with your intellect," he said in a direct and clear voice, "then you walk on only one leg." With his hands held in prayer, he lifted one leg and slowly and deliberately hopped three times. With the same deliberation and pace, he restored his foot to the floor. After a long breath, he started again. "If you move through the world only with your compassion," he said, lifting his other leg, "then you walk on only one leg." Again, he hopped three times. "But if you move through the world with both intellect and compassion, then you have wisdom." He walked slowly and gracefully, taking three long, slow strides. At the end he bowed his head again and then resumed his seat on the cushion in front of me.

From Jacqueline's book she uses the example of international aid as an act of the intellect, but not of compassion. The aid was being administered in an way that made sense, but had the unintended consequence of creating a society of people dependent on it. What made the aid lack compassion was that no one talked to the poorest of people to really understand what they needed -- to walk in their shoes. And as a result the aid was creating a society of waiters instead of initiators while achieving the opposite of the intended result.

What other examples you can you think of where this is part of our world? Maybe it is in business? Maybe in our social policies? Maybe in our laws? Maybe in our academic theories?

What are your thoughts?

  • thumb
    Feb 8 2013: It is disingenuous to argue for arguments sake. This idea was presented with sincerity, and to cherry pick from a single detail out of context is an example of what is being discussed, solutions presented without all the necessary components for successful conclusion.

    If International Aid where applied using both Intellect and Compassion than the the target of the aid would to remove the underlying causes of the issue with an end goal of giving those afflicted the ability to provide for themselves after aid is withdrawn, not simply addressing the symptom, i.e. their suffering. The example of International Aid is spot on...
    • thumb
      Feb 8 2013: Thank you for supporting me on that.

      Any examples of intellect without compassion that come to mind for you?
  • thumb
    Feb 8 2013: Timothy Prestero's TED talk is a perfect example of what I'm getting at. The first design he talked about was a design of the intellect. The second design he talked about was designed with compassion and intellect, or what he called designing for outcomes.

    You see in his talk that he moved from designing what he intellect told him he should, to deeply understanding the world of each stakeholder. In understanding his stakeholders, Timonthy and his team designed a product that produced the right intended outcome.
    • thumb
      Feb 8 2013: I think you might take interest in a book I am reading now called Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty. The researchers do not offer a diagnosis that policymakers on both left and right and the general public do not care enough to do the right things but rather argue that what is sorely lacking in most of the discussion is more than theory and anecdote to go on as to what is happening on "on the ground," how people who live on less that $1 of earning power a day make decisions, and so forth.

      I think the approach they offer is unusual (it doesn't involve pointing across the aisle or dramatic negative characterizations of other people's presumed values and motivations) and productive in the sense of offering guidelines as to what sorts of aid might work best to improve the quality of life for currently poor population in the years to come.

      It is, I think, a useful part of the picture for anyone commited to this area.
      • thumb
        Feb 9 2013: That does sound interesting. I'll see if I can find the book in the Amazon Kindle store. Thanks for the good info.
        • thumb
          Feb 9 2013: I think we (those who are really determined to make lives better for others) can solve big problems if we let up on accusing others of not having as positive values as we do. It's an over-simple and, I think, inaccurate caricature more often than not.

          What I think is more accurate is that people honestly believe the strategies they are promoting are the best thing for the population at hand and it is difficult to interpret the outcomes so as to understand whether the concept was wrong or the implementation was wrong.

          I think it can be prudent not to assume as much evil in others as many people do naturally or in modern culture.
      • thumb
        Feb 11 2013: Fritzie, that's good insight. I think it aligns with your other post where you pointed out that some people believe that cutting social services is good for society and others believe it is bad for society. I'm with you; the complexities of life make it difficult to understand what's worth doing and difficult to understand if what you've done has been effective.

        I actually think that complexity is the point of this entire TED page. I think our problems have become so complex that we can't just use our intellect to solve them anymore. To point back to the Jacqueline example, she used the entire spectrum of her intelligence (her intellect, compassion, creativity, etc.) to address the problem of international aid.

        What I'm proposing on this TED page is that we need that full spectrum of intelligence if we are to better address the problems of our day.
        • thumb
          Feb 11 2013: I don't think anyone would deny this. I think, simply, that gambits that fail or that work in some ways and fail in others cannot necessarily be taken as signs that those who advocate them lack compassion.
          In life, many observers are quick to find extreme fault in those who are trying to do difficult things. People do bungle things, of course, or hold to strategies that may make little sense to others, but the root cause of error or even folly is not necessarily the lack of a caring heart.
      • thumb
        Feb 11 2013: Absolutely. You're right on target with that.
  • thumb
    Feb 8 2013: I see your point, and perhaps I should change the wording.

    Here's what I was going for:

    Karen Armstrong describes compassion in her book:

    So “compassion” means “to endure [something] with another person,” to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes, to feel her pain as though it were our own, and to enter generously into his point of view.

    What I meant by using the word compassion is that aid that does not generously step into another's point of view, is not compassion. In the same way, aid that makes the recipients dependent is aid that has not taken the step of putting ourselves in somebody else's shoes.

    Jacqueline noted in her book that aid can be just as much about the ego of the giver as it is about the recipient.
    • thumb
      Feb 8 2013: It can be only about the ego of the giver, but to consider it mostly as that seems too cynical for accuracy. Consider cases of your own offering of help to someone or contribution to a food bank. All ego? Mostly ego?

      I think there are plenty of decisions that are made without compassion and many without either intellect or compassion. I think only that weak examples are distracting.
      • thumb
        Feb 8 2013: Please suggest a better example! I'd be glad to add it to the question.
        • thumb
          Feb 8 2013: How about some people think when a city cuts social services it lacks compassion for the former recipients, while others think providing those services shows a lack of compassion for the recipients?

          I will look forward to reading the compelling examples others put forward.
  • thumb
    Feb 8 2013: International aid is a strange example. Many would argue the contrary- that aid strategies have been much more about compassion than application of intellect. It would be quite cynical to consider aid strategies, however misconceived, as not involving compassion for the destitute.
  • thumb
    Feb 10 2013: existence
  • thumb
    Feb 9 2013: Taylor, I have some problems with "compassion". The new applied definition is "throwing money at a problem in order to ease your conscience" ... that definition comes from the Bob book of what I think. LOL. Hay its my reply so I do it by my rules. LOL. So thinking about that I turned the question around. We know that the CEO of UNICEF makes $1,200,000 a year and lots of perks including a Royals Royce and only 14 cents of the dollars goes to the cause. The second bandit is the Red Cross .. CEO gets $651,957 and lots of perks ... 39 cents of the dollar to the cause. Or the United Way $375K plus many many perks look them up (wow) ...51 cents of the dollar to the cause.

    After massive donations, big federal intervention, and red cross and others appearances in Puerto Rico, New Orleans, during Sandy .... why are they still boarded up ... homeless ... and generally no better off. The New Orleans Mayor Ray Negi is under indictement by the way. Even worse is the overseas donations ... the cash is skimmed here and then takes a heavy hit by the leaders of the government of the nation where they are destined.

    For smart people we do really dumb things and worse yet continue to do them over and over expecting different results.

    Just comments from a guy that lives outside of the box. I wish you well. Bob.
    • thumb
      Feb 11 2013: Thanks for the submission, Robert. You are right to point these things out, and to question "compassion" when these are the examples of so-called compassionate action.

      Luckily there is hope. In John Mackey's book Conscious Capitalism he highlights how the executive team of Whole Foods has a compensation cap not to exceed 19x the average pay of all team members; a number that is way below most other organizations. And his company is a for-profit enterprise.

      John Mackey is a great example of people living out the entire nature of their intelligence -- living with compassion, intellect, emotional intelligence, etc.
  • thumb
    Feb 8 2013: The distinction between intellect and compassion is hard for me to express. What I've seen, and I hope is expressed here, is that we act out of our intellect to create situations and outcomes that have all kinds of unintended consequences because we have not also taken the time to step into another's shoes. Again, a quote from Jacqueline:

    Over 20 years, I'd changed. At one time I sounded just like those wealthy philanthropists, looking for ways to make a difference with an uncritical eye, certain of my ideas, not questioning whether there were countervailing forces that had to be reckoned with in order to achieve long-term success. The genocide had exposed the dangers of a country overly reliant on aid, illuminated the perils of government power concentrated in too few hands and dependent on systems lacking accountability, and shown the fault lines of idealism without tough pragmatism. I was returning more humble and ready to listen at a deeper level.

    I believe the tough pragmatism Jacqueline talks about only comes from compassion. Why? Because she can't assess the reality of the situation and understand what is pragmatic without understanding the world of the people she is trying to help.

    To me, walking with both intellect and compassion is what has set Jacqueline apart.