Is your compassion self-serving?


Is your compassion self-serving?

In the 2007 film, 3:10 to Yuma, Christian Bale’s character loses his foot while fighting in the Civil War. As compensation, the government gives him a sum of money, with which he attempts to forge a new life. Ultimately, though, he realizes that the government didn’t give him the money so he could walk away. They gave him the money so they could walk away. The token sum wasn’t so much to help him out as it was a settlement of any obligation the government had to him.

It’s a cynical perspective. But sadly, it seems to hold some universal truth, even within the realm of dating and relationships. Sometimes, we may believe we’re acting out of compassion and sympathy, but upon further scrutiny, we’re actually pandering to our own interests. Take the true story of Steven and Joanne:


Steven met Joanne through a mutual friend and was immediately intrigued by her. At first, Joanne wasn’t sure if she was interested. But he was persistent, so she decided to give him a chance. As they spent more and more time together, she realized that she was developing strong feelings for him. Unfortunately, the opposite was true for Steven. He found that his intrigue was slowly fading into disinterest.

After dating for five months, Steven called off the relationship, badly hurting Joanne in the process. In an effort to be the nice guy, Steven would occasionally call Joanne to “check up” and to see how she was doing. He wanted to show her that he still cared. As a compassionate person, he told himself, he was doing the right thing.

Now, is Steven a great guy or what? Talk about being the perfect model of a compassionate citizen, right?

Or is he? Is Steven actually being compassionate? Or is his compassion really a guise for his selfishness? When Steven calls Joanne to check up on her, is he really trying to offer support? Or is he hoping that she’ll be fine (or at least say she is), and then he can walk away feeling less guilty about his actions?

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