Measuring Compassion

NPR recently published a review of a book about Christopher Murray, a doctor and health economist who, after studying the matter, decided that It Turns Out We Really Didn’t Know What People Are Dying From:

What the Global Burden of Disease Study analysis suggested was that, in fact, numbers had fallen quite a bit. A third fewer women were dying than authorities had said.

The initial response from some advocates for mothers was panic. They felt this meant they would have a third less funding, a third less attention.

I’ve noticed, if not a hostility, then an indifference to measuring the impact of ministries of compassion.

Sometimes, that seems to be because what you’re doing isn’t meant to be a solution. A lot of what the church and other charities do is applying band-aids. (You provide food to people with addictions, for example.) It doesn’t solve the problem, but like a band-aid, it avoids a worse problem: it keeps the patient from bleeding to death. Maybe. But then again, it might be enabling a dysfunction. Good luck puzzling that out. And remember there’s going to be a test.

Since it’s such a hard problem, you’d think people would want to measure what they’re doing. My suspicion is that, when they don’t, they aren’t as interested in actually helping people as being seen to be helping them.


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