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Public vs. Private Compassion: Colored Ribbons, T-shirts, and SUVs

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The UK think tank Civitas just announced a new publication with the intriguing title of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes It Really Is Cruel to Be Kind, by Patrick West. According to reviewers, West feels that people who wear colored ribbons to show empathy with worthy causes and mourn in public for celebrities they have never met are part of a growing culture of "ostentatious caring which is about feeling good, not doing good." He notes that none of these public displays help the poor, diseased, dispossessed or bereaved; instead they end up only “projecting one's ego, and informing others what a deeply caring individual you are.”

Susan and Steve ruminate on how public – and private – displays of emotion or politics relate to volunteering as we know it.

Susan examines the history and philosophy of ribbon-wearing, and goes on to muse about plastic forks, Oscar Wilde, SUVs, and individual responsibility.

Steve considers the practice of “keeping score,” the perceived difference between volunteers and activists, and Worthy versus merely Good forms of service.