Dostoevsky says in Book 2, Chapter 4 of The Brothers Karamazov.
I love mankind…but I marvel at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love human beings in particular, separately, as individual persons.
In my dreams…I would often arrive at fervent plans of devotion to mankind and might very possibly have gone to the Cross for human beings, had that been suddenly required of me, and yet I am unable to spend two days in the same room with someone else…No sooner is that someone else close to me than his personality…hampers my freedom. In the space of a day and a night I am capable of coming to hate even the best of human beings: one because he takes too long over dinner, another because he has a cold and is perpetually blowing his nose…
To compensate for this, however, it has always happened that the more I have hated human beings in particular, the more ardent has become my love for mankind in general.
This is a perceptive point, one which could thrust upon either political party. However most statistics show that conservatives are more likely to be charitable. Nicholas Kristof in a 2008 NYT op-ed column says:
Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, “Who Really Cares,” cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.
George Will, also following Brooks said the following:
– Conservatives also donate more time and give more blood.
– Residents of the states that voted for John Kerry in 2004 gave smaller percentages of their incomes to charity than did residents of states that voted for George Bush.
– Bush carried 24 of the 25 states where charitable giving was above average.
– In the 10 reddest states, in which Bush got more than 60 percent majorities, the average percentage of personal income donated to charity was 3.5. Residents of the bluest states, which gave Bush less than 40 percent, donated just 1.9 percent.
– People who reject the idea that “government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality” give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.
Of course much of this discrepancy could be explained by people giving to their church.
If this is the case, then although conservatives may be prone to point the finger, does not what Dostoevsky said challenge all of us?
It should challenge all of us who talk about helping “humanity” to get off the couch and mow that widow’s yard across the street, or fix the piece of siding that is falling off that elderly couples house, or nail a gutter back in place for the single mom next door.
Talking about helping does little good. Doing good, and loving ones neighbor takes time, sweat, and energy.
That is why it so hard to do, and so easy to talk about.