Acts of Compassion by Robert Wuthnow

By Robert Wuthnow

Robert Wuthnow unearths that people who find themselves so much taken with acts of compassion are not any much less individualistic than someone else--and that people who are the main intensely individualistic are not any much less eager about taking care of others. Robert Wuthnow unearths that people who are so much thinking about acts of compassion aren't any much less individualistic than somebody else--and that people who find themselves the main intensely individualistic are not any much less concerned with taking care of others.

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They provide an interpretation of how altruism works in our culture, but this interpretation itself needs to be relativized; that is, to be seen as a feature of the individualistic culture in which we live, rather than being taken simply as timeless scientific fact. Its assumptions need to be examined in light of how compassionate individuals actually construct their experiences. The rational-choice theorist makes three crucial assumptions: one, that individuals always and knowingly pursue self-interest; two, that they often do so (as in the prisoner game) without direct social interaction or communication; and three, that some omniscient being has set up simple, easy-to-calculate payoffs.

I’m just not a believer in doing something because it’s going to get you ahead in the world. I don’t care if I’m recognized for it. ” So she struggles to find an appropriate way of making herself clear, of reconciling the side of her that wants to believe in compassion in some unsullied form with the side that wants to make room for selfish motives, and not only make room for them but also make them compatible with caring. She tries one more time to offer a generalization, but quickly retreats into a statement referring only to herself.

Janet Russo has farther to go. She still cuts herself off. She tries to touch others in a caring way. But her insecurity forces her to be too self-sufficient. She needs to learn how to depend more on others, to open up and let them fulfill her needs. 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.

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