A lot of Americans demonstrate what I call cheap compassion.

I’ve seen quite a bit of this cheap compassion during the government shutdown, especially from friends on the left. They post articles and comments highlighting some of the suffering experienced by those directly impacted by the elimination of federal services. One particularly heartbreaking New York Times story chronicles the impact on Native American communities.

Like other largely impoverished Indian tribes that lean heavily on federal dollars, the Crow have been battered by the shutdown.

Some 364 Crow members, more than a third of the tribe’s work force, have been furloughed. A bus service, the only way some Crow are able to travel across their 2.3-million-acre reservation, has been shuttered. A home health care program for sick tribal members has been suspended.

A friend posted the story with the following comment.

The poor, sick and hungry are suffering. Could real statesmen and women step the heck up and govern?

I couldn’t help but think: what are YOU doing about it?

You see, my friend demonstrates cheap compassion. It costs her nothing. She can point her finger at Congress, act indignant, and then go on about her day feeling self-satisfied in the fact that she cares about the poor and sick. But she hasn’t DONE anything to help a poor or sick person. She merely demanded somebody else do something about it.

Government feeds into America’s cheap compassion. It provides the perfect vehicle for dumping responsibility elsewhere. It allows us to “show” concern for the poor and downtrodden without actually lifting a finger. We can just yell, and scream and demand that the government do more to help so-and-so, and then smugly go on with our own lives. On top of that, it allows us to actually believe we embody compassion. We don’t have to get our hands dirty helping somebody else. We don’t even have to give any of our time, money or resources. We simply have to support the right programs and vote for the appropriate candidates, and then we can declare ourselves compassionate. Our political system even affords us the opportunity to feel superior to others who disagree with our political solutions and look down on them as uncompassionate!

Let’s boil it down to its most basic form. Government allows you to claim compassion as you point a gun at your neighbor’s head and demand he help others. He doesn’t have a choice in how he helps. He doesn’t have a say in who he helps. He doesn’t have a say in where he helps. The government just takes his money and dumps it into some program. We don’t even get a guarantee that the “help” actually helps. History demonstrates that it usually doesn’t.

Now you may argue, “Well Mike, I pay taxes too!”

Setting aside the reality that nearly 50 percent of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes, the fact remains that you support a system that relies on violence to impose your will, and your conception of compassion, on everybody else. The fact that the government also points a gun at your head hardly seems relevant. You approve of the robbery. Good for you.

Here’s an idea: let’s do away with the gun. Then you can voluntarily give to the poor in a way that will likely make a real difference. And so can I.

You see, the government takeover of compassion has created an uncompassionate society. We don’t really care about actual poor people. We don’t interact with them We don’t give to them. We just point them to a government program and then pat ourselves on the back for our compassion. In the meantime, the poor soul you “helped” must endure the indignity of dealing with a bunch of bureaucrats.

We’ve reduced compassion to a political stand.

And for those of us who fight expansive government: we have a responsibility too. We can’t limit the size and scope of the federal government if we lack a willingness to jump in and actually help people in need. Preaching small government without actively getting involved in the life of our community shows a lack of compassion as well.

Government has gradually replaced far too many of society’s institutions. It’s become church, charity, family and doctor. What’s worse – it assumes those roles with force and violence.

The time has come for us to downsize D.C. and reestablish other important institutions in society. Many will argue that we cannot dismantle the government system. Too many people rely on it. They will point to proof in the shutdown.

Therein lies the problem. We’ve created a system that encourages dependence, and relies on force and violence. Now, millions find themselves intimately tied to that corrupt, obscene system. But the existence of the system doesn’t justify its existence. We have to find a way to dismantle it, as difficult as it will prove. It is immoral and ultimately hurts those we intend to help. What’s more, it is simply unsustainable. If we don’t take steps toward change, it will eventually collapse. Then we will see real suffering.

Live compassionately. Do the work. And quit trying to force others to take on YOUR responsibility.