Much current political discourse in the United States pits advocates of personal accountability against advocates of social compassion.
Advocates of personal accountability want individuals to take responsibility for their actions. Men who father children should pay child support and assist in other childcare responsibilities. The same is true for women who give birth to a child. Individuals who overspend, whether through credit card mismanagement or taking an unaffordable mortgage, should suffer the financial consequences of those choices.
Advocates of social compassion want to ensure that everybody has a minimum quality of life. People make poor choices for many reasons. Regardless, everybody deserves basic food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare. Government programs appropriately express the community’s social compassion.
I find both views have merit. Paternalism is unhealthy. Rabid individualism is also unhealthy. Neither works. The confrontational either/or rhetoric obscures that both accountability and compassion are indispensable.
The nation (like a family or any health community) needs to balance compassion and accountability. A healthy family holds its members accountable and ensures that nobody suffers catastrophic failure.
The larger the group, the loser the bonds that bind people together, the more difficult to identify and to inhabit that healthy balance. Yet that is what we as a nation (all nations) and we in our civic communities need to do.
For example, an individual should be accountable for any child the individual procreates. However, penalizing the child by making the unwanted child entirely dependent upon an uncaring, inept parent who consistently shirks parental responsibilities makes the child and the rest of society into losers. We need creative alternatives for accountability coupled with genuine, contextually appropriate compassion.
The constructive, Christian middle ground for public discourse will work to hold individuals accountable for their actions, aiming to incentivize and to form, not to punish or to inflict vengeance. The constructive, Christian middle ground for public discourse will work to establish compassion for all, not as a substitute for accountability but as a complement, caring for the most vulnerable and least among us as if they were Jesus himself.