I have been reading a lot of books lately about justice and community development and how to best make a difference. Right now I am reading a book called, Toxic Charity. It seems that most of the books I have read lately have a common theme that the way we have tried to help people in the past has done more harm than good. I understand what they are saying, and I mostly agree with them. My fear, however, is that people who are not so inclined to justice and mercy anyway, will use these books as an excuse not to do anything. I hope I am wrong, but that is my fear.
Toxic Charity has been especially challenging to me. In one of the chapters, the author suggest that the proper balance in helping people in need is by combining mercy and justice. He calls is “parity vs. charity” or “holistic compassion.” I like the phrase “holistic compassion.” An example of holistic compassion would be thrift stores instead of clothes closet. He writes, “Thrift stores, unlike free-clothes closets, are legitimate businesses that need customers to pay the light bill and make weekly payroll. And unlike clothes closets that place limits on the number of visits and garments a recipient is allowed, a thrift store relies on attracting paying customers to purchase as many clothes as they are able. When the customer is necessary to ensure the business’s survival, there is equity of power. And parity is the higher form of charity.” I think the basic idea is to return dignity to people in need.
Holistic compassion is seen in the words of the prophet, Micah, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Commenting on this verse, the writer of Toxic Charity says, “Twinned together, these commands lead us to holistic involvement. Divorced, they become deformed. Mercy without justice degenerates into dependency and entitlement, preserving the power of the giver over the recipient. Justice without mercy is cold and impersonal, more concerned about rights than relationships…Mercy combined with justice creates: (1) immediate care with a future plan; (2) emergency relief and responsible development; (3) short-term intervention and long-term involvement; (4) heart responses and engaged minds..Mercy that doesn’t move intentionally in the direction of development (justice) will end up doing more harm than good–to both giver and recipient.”
What do you think? In trying to help those in need, do we often do more harm than good? What does the phrase holistic compassion mean to you?