True Compassion Is More Than Flinging a Coin to a Beggar

A chef wearing a yellow apron and a plastic glove hands a bowl of food to a customer who holds a pair of chopsticks.

Generosity is valued in every culture, as well it should be. Still, generosity alone won’t create the society that we strive for. That’s the argument that nationally syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. makes in this November 2021 essay from Boulder, Colorado’s Daily Camera.

Read it here.


1. Pitts asserts that “sometimes, what warms the heart sedates the conscience.” What does he mean by that succinct assertion? Restate it in your own words. Do you agree with the assertion? Why or why not? Offer an example from your own experience to support or refute Pitts’s statement.

2. In a way, Pitts is scolding his audience and suggesting strongly that they should do something other than what they’re doing (even though there is nothing at all wrong with their generosity). What is he suggesting they should do? What rhetorical moves does he make—in tone and word choice—to avoid offending or insulting readers? Point to specific examples from the essay. Do you think these moves are effective? Why or why not?

3. LET’S TALK. Pitts claims that the economic structure of the United States is “rigged” like a game of musical chairs, a game in which scarcity is exactly the point. Think about your own personal circumstances and those of your family (however you define that). How accurate do you find Pitts’s characterization? Discuss your observations and reflections with a few classmates. Can you come up with another analogy (based on a game or on something else) that would exemplify as well as support what Pitts is arguing? Explain why your analogy works effectively.

4. AND NOW WRITE. Pitts argues that all too often, we give not so much to help others but to make ourselves feel good about ourselves—and that our efforts would be better aimed at restructuring the causes of suffering. What’s your own experience, either with giving to others or being the beneficiary of gifts from others? Drawing on your own experience for examples, write a response to Pitts, explaining your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with his major claim.

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