Misguided Compassion Hurts People

The other day I was in line at CVS when the gentleman in front of me kindly let me jump ahead to one of the self-checkouts while he chose to wait longer for a traditional checkout with a CVS employee. He then explained to an employee that he would rather wait in the longer line than use a self-checkout, because every time someone uses one of them it takes away jobs and hours from the employees.

Now, do I question his true intentions? Of course not; he was clearly sacrificing his own comfort for the benefit of others. I don’t doubt his compassion. The problem is that it’s misguided. Though this avenue of thinking is fairly prominent across ideological lines, it is in fact bizarre.

The reality is that refusing advancements in technology in the name of saving jobs (see:Make-work bias) does not help people at all but rather hurts them. Working more doesn’t necessarily improve someone’s socioeconomic status; but working more productively does. In the last 100 years the world has seen unprecedented advancements in technology, methods, and procedures, and yet people still have an answer to the question “what is it that you do?” There was a time when almost everyone was a farmer, but the introduction of the plow didn’t put all of the farmers out of a job and end human civilization; instead it allowed farmers to be more productive spending less time in the field and more time pursuing new advancements and new things.

So back to my friend at CVS; yes he probably thought he was doing something noble and selfless by boycotting self-checkouts, but the truth of the matter is he’s as self-interested as the rest of us when the cost to him gets too high. Unless of course he makes all his phone calls through an operator, books all his travel through a travel agent, never makes online purchases, and only listens to live music.

Showing compassion towards others does not happen nearly enough and I would encourage everyone to think about how you can put others above yourself; but make sure it’s not misguided.  Labor does not in itself improve societies, lift individuals and communities out of poverty, or drive change. But improving productivity and creative destruction sure do.

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2 Responses to Misguided Compassion Hurts People

  1. Mr. Fantastic says:


  2. Robert says:

    I am reminded of a wonderful story in George Clason’s “Richest Man in Babylon” where one farm animal “helps” another farm animal to avoid the back breaking work of tilling the land for a day. The take away message of the story is that when you help others, do it in such a way that you do not transfer their problem onto yourself. This simple insight has helped me countless times to find better ways to help people than I would have without this insight.

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