The politics in empathy

If there is any political alignment I have, it’s for views that allow for the most empathy. I believe that’s how most people can thrive.

Money is political. There’s no getting around it. We need to acknowledge it and move on.

And, not to throw down a “you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists“, but it does seem to me that you are for justice and equity, or you’re not.

But rather than make this a left-right issue (which isn’t really all that helpful), I tend to throw down my gauntlet with a question: who has the argument that contains the most empathy?

The two extremes of personal finance

From my vantage point, personal finance exists on a continuum of viewpoints, with one extreme tending to total self-reliance (“Anyone can be wealthy, the only limiting factor is you“) and the other extreme tending to one of fatalism (“The system is broken and no one can get ahead unless they were born into privilege“).

I reject both of these. Or rather, I believe both are true.

After all, to me it seems totally in line that anyone can become wealthy, while at the same time acknowledging that the system disproportionately benefits some people over others.

The necessary caveat is: “The system works easier for some people than for others.” It can really be no other way. So while anyone can build wealth, it may be harder for you. That doesn’t mean that you are any less worthy of compassion. And it certainly doesn’t mean that if you aren’t wealthy, that it’s your fault.


My political “north star” is one of empathy. Which political position provides the most open tent, the most generosity and understanding, and the most support. Which one will help when you need it (spoiler alert: we all need it)?

More to the point, which one assumes the best in people?

I believe that any system should be just generous enough that it allows some people to “take advantage” of it.

No system is perfect, so if you’re trying for perfection, you’re going to over- or under-shoot it.

And for me, that means that we can either design systems that allow for some level of graft, or that keep out some people who legitimately could use assistance.

I’ll take the latter any day. And why not? What is so bad about some people doing things they shouldn’t, if it means that you make sure to help everyone who needs it?

Let us take advantage

This is what I mean by political empathy. If there is injustice, then we need to work towards eradicating it. And that may mean that we allow some behavior that we would ordinarily want to restrict.

If some people taking advantage of a system bothers you more than some people needing assistance but not getting it, I suggest you question that stance.

If you believe some version of “I did it without any help, so everyone else should too“, I invite you to look in the mirror. (Spoiler alert: you’re probably part of a dominant culture.)

And repeat after me: No. One. Succeeds. Without. Help. From. Others.

Even. Yourself.

With that in mind, there is no legitimate stance for me other than empathy. More people succeed when we open the tent and allow more people in. And this isn’t a competition. If more people can become financially secure, that is a good thing.

A rising tide lifts all boats. And I want to be here with the hose. (It’s a big job, but I’m a patient person.)

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