The Value of Compassion

by Amanda Molk | 10/22/98 5:00am

It doesn't affect me, so why should I care?" It is appalling on a campus supposedly brewing with our world's future leaders, how many times I've heard that comment and others just like it. If Dartmouth students are going to inherit global leadership positions, we must realize the importance of issues that do not directly effect us but do have an impact on our peers.

Undoubtedly, Dartmouth and its resources help all of us to develop intellectually. But we must take care that the institution which we all love does not simply mold the world's brightest investment bankers. True knowledge extends far beyond numbers and words to capture emotions, which are much more difficult to understand and address than econometrics or organic chemistry, not to mention just as vital to a successful society. No amount of intellect can replace simple human compassion.

Why, some might ask, is compassion so instrumental in human society? Isn't it just some liberal catch word that people use as an excuse to keep from addressing real problems? To take the latter question first, no, it is not that at all. As those trained in dealing with both intellectual and emotional problems can attest, those of emotions are often much more difficult to handle. In response to the first question I posed, without the ability and compassion to address emotional issues, issues which may or may not directly affect each of us, not every member of society will be able to perform to his or her maximum capacity.

I'll use the issue of eating disorders as an example. One person might say that he doesn't have an eating disorder, and thus this issue does not affect him, and he really doesn't care about it. What this man fails to realize or accept is the fact that if something affects one of his peers, it does have an impact on him. As John Donne stated, "No man is an island." We cannot accomplish anything alone; we must have the help of our peers. Problems that encompass complex emotions, like eating disorders, can and often do impair an individual's ability to tackle intellectual problems. If our peers are unable to fulfill their potential, that does directly affect each and every one of us, and therefore, it is our responsibility to them, to our community and to ourselves as members of that community to help them.

By first admitting that problems which inhibit people's ability to work in a community exist, such as eating disorders, sexual abuse and many others, we are taking a tremendous stride in helping those who personally face these issues. Second, in making a personal commitment to alleviate problems such as these on campus, we can not only help those who currently need it, but also keep others from needing help in the first place. This, in turn, will help to maximize the contributions that every member of our community can make.

Many feel that while causes like this sound noble, they are in fact a waste of time because there really isn't anything we can do to effectively address many of these problems. As former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder said when she visited Dartmouth on Oct.13, "Cynics never change the world." If these people do not want to advocate the causes that have dramatic emotional impact on members of our community, why champion any cause at all? After all, one cannot do so effectively unless all members of the community are in a state of emotional well being and able to contribute fully to the community.

A lot of the people on this campus who either feel that problems in the emotional realm are not worth addressing or are impossible to effectively address are hesitant to admit this to the general public. Dartmouth students are supposed to be intelligent. Doesn't this tip anyone off to the fact that perhaps these people deep down do realize that their unwillingness to address these issues is not founded in any morality or reasoning, but rather selfishness and laziness?

If we allow ourselves to worry about our own lives and no one else's, we will thus render ourselves incapable of assuming the global leadership roles that await us. We have the intelligence, intellectual capacity and education to tackle any problems the world hands us. But without compassion, all of our other talents will be wasted. It is not difficult to care about your fellow students and human beings, so do it.