The compassion gap explored

When New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof  wrote an op-ed piece for his paper about the need for early childhood intervention programs, he focused on a three-year-old in West Virginia. He’s deaf. And no one got him any help.

“On the one hand, it’s terrific that we’re beginning to have a serious discussion about inequality, poverty and opportunity,” he wrote later on his blog. “On the other, the debate is mostly about the minimum wage and unemployment benefits, which to my thinking are useful but not the most cost-effective measures.”

“Priorities 1-10 for this group is to stop them from having children at all,” Tom from Kansas responded.

“This story is sad, disheartening, and frustrating. There is also an element of responsibility on the parent/s, though. The internet is free at libraries, various other resources. Milestones are easily accessible, as is basic knowledge about childcare. If a child is not hearing/coooing/looking towards sounds, it is up to the parent to recognize that first,” someone from LA wrote.

“I, for one, am tired of witnessing far too many children neglected and abused by those who are supposed to be responsible for their love, care and well-being,” said a third.

Apparently callers to Kristof also pointed out money spent on the mom’s tatoos could’ve been better spent.

Is this theme just the Internet being the Internet, or does it suggest, at Kristof did in his follow-up column yesterday, a “compassion gap?”

Critics note that if a person manages to get through high school and avoid drugs, crime and parenting outside of marriage, it’s often possible to escape poverty. Fair enough. But if you’re one of the one-fifth of children in West Virginia born with drugs or alcohol in your system, if you ingest lead from peeling paint as a toddler, if your hearing or vision impairments aren’t detected, if you live in a home with no books in a gang-ridden neighborhood with terrible schools — in all these cases, you’re programmed for failure as surely as children of professionals are programed for success.

So when kids in poverty stumble, it’s not quite right to say that they “failed.” Often, they never had a chance.

Researchers also find that financial stress sometimes impairs cognitive function, leading to bad choices. Indian farmers, for example, test higher for I.Q. after a harvest when they are financially secure. Alleviate financial worry, and you can gain 13 points in measured I.Q.

The tattoos that readers saw on Truffles are mostly old ones, predating Johnny, and she is passionate about helping him. That’s why she enrolled him in a Save the Children program that provides books that she reads to him every day. In that trailer in Appalachia, I don’t see a fat woman with tattoos; I see a loving mom who encapsulates any parent’s dreams for a child.

Johnny shouldn’t be written off at the age of 3 because of the straw he drew in the lottery of birth. To spread opportunity, let’s start by pointing fewer fingers and offering more helping hands.

Question: Do we act based on what we know to be true, or merely on what we think to be true?