Christian Living

True Compassion Is Determined by the Mind, Not by Feelings

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 06/23/2016

In an article titled “Regret Isn’t Rare: The Dangerous Lie of Sex Change Surgery’s Success,” Walt Heyer (who regrets his own sex change surgery) argues that our society needs to stop pushing surgery as the solution for those who are experiencing gender dysphoria.

Shortly after undergoing sex change surgery, most people report feeling better. Over time, however, the initial euphoria wears off. The distress returns, but this time it is exacerbated by having a body that is irrevocably molded to look like the opposite gender. That’s what happened to me, and that’s what the people with regret who write to me say happened to them.

Heyer goes on to tell the story of one man’s regret and to explain why our rush to treat gender dysphoria with sex change surgery is neither wise nor compassionate.

This reminds me of something I wrote several years ago:

Over the past couple of years I’ve had to learn the hard way that my strong feelings of compassion and empathy coupled with my desire to help people and make them happy can sometimes obscure the path of true compassion. I watched with horror as the actions of my emotion-driven “compassion” led only to greater harm to the friends I was trying to help. What was wrong? I was giving them what they said they needed. I couldn’t stand to see them suffer! I was confused and conflicted—I loved these people and wanted to help, but my short-term help was causing them long-term harm. When I finally accepted the fact that the truly compassionate thing to do was to withhold what these people were asking for, I had to do the most difficult thing I’ve ever done—I stopped giving it to them. I fought my feelings and forced myself to stand firm. I endured accusations of cruelty and lack of Christian charity. I withstood slander and gossip. I was rejected and berated. Believe me, it would have been much easier to give them what they wanted, and I certainly would have been happier about myself, but I desired to be truly compassionate to these people I loved—and that meant doing what was best for them, regardless of my feelings.

True compassion is not directed by a feeling. In fact, it may entail actions that cause our feelings of compassion to scream with protest. But, as I’ve said before, our emotions must submit to our minds. The impulse to be compassionate is good, but if we let our emotions determine the way we carry out that compassion, we will often be deceived. A careful examination of the long-term results of our actions is necessary to determine whether or not those actions are truly compassionate....

No doubt we’ll be called selfish and uncaring, and our own feelings may even condemn us. I know how difficult this is. All we can do is continue to remind ourselves that helping people in a real and lasting way is more important than satisfying and protecting our own feelings

I wrote those words in a completely different context, but the principle applies everywhere—personal relationships, public policy, child-rearing, medicine, education, and on, and on. Sometimes the easy response of giving a person what he immediately desires, in the way he immediately wishes to receive it, is not the compassionate response.

Great misunderstandings are caused when people assume their policy preference is identical with compassion itself, and that a rejection of that policy equals a rejection of compassion. This assumption is false, and Heyer’s article is a perfect example of why. Many doctors refuse to do transgender surgeries not because they hate, but because they care about their patients’ long-term well-being and want to practice responsible medicine. They are as compassionate as anyone on the other side, but their minds have led them to express that compassion differently. If people on the other side of this could give everyone the benefit of the doubt instead of jumping to a conclusion of “hate,” public discourse would be much better off.