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Acts of Compassion

Acts of Compassion: Caring for Others and Helping Ourselves

Robert Wuthnow
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 364
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  • Book Info
    Acts of Compassion
    Book Description:

    Robert Wuthnow finds that those who are most involved in acts of compassion are no less individualistic than anyone else--and that those who are the most intensely individualistic are no less involved in caring for others.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2057-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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    • CHAPTER ONE An American Paradox
      (pp. 3-17)

      In 1896 Jane Addams journeyed to Russia to visit Tolstoy. He was the famous writer. She was the internationally renowned founder of Hull House in Chicago. Their meeting was destined to be a clash of titans.

      Years earlier Jane Addams had begun reading Tolstoy’s books. Moved by his message of compassion, she decided to devote her life to helping the needy. Despite shyness, homesickness, and poor health, she gave up the comfortable life she had known as a child. She moved from the splendor of a country estate to the squalor of an urban slum. She gave up everything to...

    • CHAPTER TWO Caring and/for Our Selves
      (pp. 18-46)

      A chorus of criticism about the level of self-centeredness in our society has risen to a crescendo in recent years. “me generation” of the 1970s. In contrast to the social and political awareness of the sixties, the seventies seem to have been a decade of turning inward, of finding one’s self. Trying to make a difference in one’s community—or even finding a community—was out of vogue. Suddenly the whole society seemed to be caught up in a quest for self-identity, inner peace, security. Then it was the “decade of greed,” as some writers dubbed the 1980s. In the...


    • CHAPTER THREE Talking about Motives
      (pp. 49-85)

      Not long ago a local newspaper carried the story of an elderly woman who made quilts. For more than half a century she had sewn quilts, donating the proceeds to various causes, such as a hospital, a senior citizens’ center, a school for autistic children. Most of the story was no different from hundreds of others printed in local newspapers each day. Such is the fare of human-interest reportage. What made this story distinctive was that it didnotask: why did she do it?

      Questions about motives go hand in hand with discussions of charitable behavior. Jack Casey, Marge...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Finding Fulfillment
      (pp. 86-118)

      Helping people makes you feel good. This is the message we hear again and again from volunteer agencies and fund-raisers. A Christian magazine with a large national circulation recently carried an advertisement by a well-known international relief agency. At the top was the familiar face of a needy child, dark-skinned, with large, sad eyes. Beside her picture in bold, black, underlined letters half an inch high was the word sponsorship. Below this, filling up nearly a quarter of the page in equally huge letters, were the wordsIt’ll Make You Feel Good. But in case the reader might have missed...


    • CHAPTER FIVE Conviction and Community
      (pp. 121-156)

      Debbie Carson began doing volunteer work in high school. Much of it was organized by her youth group at church. She visited inmates at the county jail and sang hymns at local nursing homes on Sunday afternoons. She also worked as a candy striper at a hospital. Volunteering became a habit. So did caring for the needy. In college she majored in special education. After college she worked for a year in an inner-city program for disadvantaged families. After that she taught children with learning disabilities.

      Now in her late thirties, married, and the mother of two children, Debbie Carson...

    • CHAPTER SIX Along the Road
      (pp. 157-188)

      A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half-dead. And by chance a certain priest was going down that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And in like manner a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he was moved to compassion, and came to him, and bound up his...


    • CHAPTER SEVEN Bounded Love
      (pp. 191-220)

      From 6 to 8 a.m., Carla worked at a day-care center. From 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., she taught grade school. From 2 to 6 p.m., she taught at an after-school latchkey program.

      “To save a woman from being sent to a nursing home, Carla had moved in with an Alzheimer’s victim. So at 12:30, Carla rushed home to make lunch for her roommate. At supper time, Carla rushed home again to make supper for her roommate.

      “Several years earlier, while working at the state prison, Carla had befriended, then fallen in love with, an inmate.... After washing the supper...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Tarnished Image
      (pp. 221-246)

      The 1940 film version of Steinbeck’sGrapes of Wrathends on a hopeful note. After Jim Casey decoys the police to prevent them from finding Tom Joad, and is brutally murdered, Tom (played by Henry Fonda) decides to become a volunteer, a man devoted to the needs of all poor and exploited travelers along life’s highway. He tells Ma of his plan: “You know what I been thinkin’ about, about Casey, what he said, what he done, about how he died, and I remember all of it.” Tom explains his desire to be like Casey: “Maybe I can do somethin’,...


    • CHAPTER NINE Envisioning a Better Society
      (pp. 249-281)

      Jane addams’s decision to become a volunteer also forced her to become an advocate of social justice. The girl from rural Illinois moved to Chicago with the hope of helping disadvantaged individuals. She quickly discovered that caring for individuals could go only so far. To improve the conditions of poor people in Chicago would take the help of city hall and eventually even the federal government. With the help of labor unions and social-reform organizations, she was able to institute juvenile-court laws, the first “mother’s pension” law, tenement-house regulations, an eight-hour workday law for women, factory-inspection laws, and workers’ compensation....

    • CHAPTER TEN The Case for Compassion
      (pp. 282-310)

      Imagine for a moment that our roles are reversed: you are the writer and I am the reader. Impossible, you say; it will not work; it is only some not-so-subtle trick you want to play. But see: you have already begun to speak. Perhaps there are interesting possibilities here after all. Ask yourself, before you say anything more, whether you believe compassion is a good thing. And if you believe it is a good thing, see if you can frame an argument that will convince me.

      As you ponder the question, let me make it clear to you that I...