Friday, April 25, 2008

Compassionate, or Humane?

Maybe I'm making too much of this, but I've noticed something. When the Mayor's office first released their draft policy last January, it was billed as "consistent and compassionate," and these were the words that Pat McInturff always used.

Now, it's become "consistent and humane." The "C" word, apparently has been dropped. Compassion isn't in the final protocols press release, but the word "humane" appears three times. The spin-masters at City Hall seem to have opted for the less loaded word. Here, for example, is the Mayor's press spokesman, Marty McOmber:
"What's new here is that we've developed a coordinated, humane, predictable approach that really sets the exact way that you're going to go out and do this."
Newly-elected City Council member Tim Burgess likes "humane" too. "I believe the rules are humane, recognize the complexity of homelessness, and reflect our long-term goal of eliminating homelessness." Great Tim. I'm glad someone thinks so.

Given how carefully this administration uses language, the subtle difference seems worth exploring.

The word compassion implies a certain amount of connectedness and having something at stake. The online dictionary says compassion is the "deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it." Of the two words, it sets the higher bar. When I do a Google image search, here's my top hit.


To be "humane" is a little easier. The online dictionary says that's
"marked or motivated by concern with the alleviation of suffering." So there's "concern." And "alleviation." But pretty much everyone opposes suffering, and in the end, the concern tends to fade. The connotations are charitable and the word is more associated with children, animals, and other somewhat helpless creatures. In an image search, the top hit offers us this.



It probably isn't worth the trouble to get all exegetical on a City press release. It might have been just them wanting to avoid any unnecessary Dalai Lama associations. It's a small thing, but it was a choice. That's what makes it interesting.

3 comments:

Dr. Wes Browning said...

Even the lowered standard isn't met. The protocol is deliberately vague so as to admit wildly inconsistent applications. It can't therefore be said to be consistent in any useful sense. And there's nothing humane about what is planned for those who fall into the loopholes.

If they were honest, instead of calling them "consistent and humane" they would call the protocols, "vague and barbaric."

Stephanie said...

con·tempt Audio Help /kənˈtɛmpt/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[kuhn-tempt] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–noun 1. the feeling with which a person regards anything considered mean, vile, or worthless; disdain; scorn.
2. the state of being despised; dishonor; disgrace.
3. Law. a. willful disobedience to or open disrespect for the rules or orders of a court (contempt of court) or legislative body.
b. an act showing such disrespect.

Above is the onine definition of contempt. When I first started working in human services in Seattle, I had contempt tattooed on my right arm and compassion tattooed on my left. I flip people off with my right arm, reach out with my left. We must, in all consciousness, reject the protocols and act with contempt for the laws whilst also practicing compassion for those (of us) affected by these protocols. Because, if one human is affected, we all are. And while I may have misspelled "tattooed", I meant use "affected." You can do your own dictionary.com for the difference between "e" and "a". We are all affected when anyone of us is displaced, run over with machinery, has our belongings thrown out or is otherwise treated without compassion.

Bill said...

I still think the protocols are capricious and punitively arbitrary. Neither humane (which we use mostly with animals) nor compassionate (which I don't think any protocol can achieve. Compassion is a relational thing, not a process, procedure, protocol, or pissing contest. The latter is what the war mayor favors, btw. I guess that fits with using humane. I've noticed piss gets my dog's attention. Give anyone an idea about what to do with the City Hall Plaza fountains? Just a thought,...