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Compassion kills | Nolan Watson |  TEDxVancouver

Compassion kills | Nolan Watson | TEDxVancouver


Translator: Gabriella Patricola
Reviewer: Denise RQ I’m particularly excited to be here today to talk to you about a passion of mine
which is humanitarian work. I know that what I want
to talk about today, as you can see up there,
is an incredibly sobering topic. It’s also a controversial one. A lot of people know me as Nolan Watson, the business person who has started up some companies
that are large public companies now, and who has raised
and who has invested billions of dollars, but very few people know
the other part of me. I want to spend a couple of minutes
talking about that today because when I go on to explain
what I mean by “Compassion kills,” I want you to understand where I’m coming from
and where my heart is. I was raised by two compassionate parents. In fact, I think it’s going on
almost two decades now that my mother’s been
volunteering at a hospital to just sit there and talk
with sick or dying people to make their day a little bit easier. I remember when I was 14 years old, my parents took a 19-year-old young man,
who was homeless, who they had never met before,
into our house to live with us for a number of months,
just to get him back up on his feet. Those are the types of things
that stick with you for your entire life. And so, I remember a few years later, when I was actually going to school here,
at UBC in the Commerce program, I had this feeling
like there was more to life than just going into business
and making money for myself. So, after a lot of careful consideration, I made the decision to drop out of business school
and go become a humanitarian. But, when I went to tell my father that, I think his exact words were,
“Not while you live in my house.” (Laughter) And to be fair, in his defense,
he went on to say, “Nolan, if you want
to become a humanitarian, your mother and I will support you, but you should become
a business person first, because that way you will learn
how organizations run, how to raise money,
how to manage it properly. You’ll learn how the economies
actual work and, more importantly, you will learn how to solve the problems
that are actually causing poverty, rather than merely learning
how to treat the symptoms of poverty.” What he was saying to me is that the goal
shouldn’t be “become a humanitarian,” the goal should be
“become a smart humanitarian.” So from that day, I made it my objective
to become a smart humanitarian. At that point, I felt like the things
that I was doing in school and the work that I was doing
actually had a purpose. It’s amazing what a sense of purpose
will do to your level of motivation. I went from being
an average student here at UBC to actually getting
a full ride scholarship. I went on to become the valedictorian of the Institute
of Chartered Accountants of BC and I got a CFA designation. I had this sense
that if I wasn’t giving it my all, that people would die,
as a result of my lack of effort, that could have been saved. And that sense that I had
wasn’t just a sense; it’s the truth. It’s true for me in the same way
that it’s true for each of you here today. I know it sounds harsh, but I believe that if each of us
don’t give it our all every day, it is a fact people will die
who could have been saved. So, after school, and early in my career,
I started looking for a charity that I believed was tackling the problems
that were causing poverty, one which was not wasting money
on administration expenses, but after auditing a number of charities,
and actually researching others further – including a number, by the way,
that I won’t mention by name, but you would know
the ones that I’m talking about – I became frustrated
to realize that a lot of them were spending up to 50% of the money
that they raised from donors on administration expenses;
things like salaries and rent, things like fundraising fees,
and advertising, and other costs. Even charities that had
advertisements with pie graphs that said, “90% of the funds
that we raise go to the end cause,” were spending up to 50% on administration, and they were using creative accounting
merely to justify their advertisement. So, I became so frustrated,
and my wife became frustrated, so we decided to go start up
our own humanitarian organization. So, six years ago we did exactly that: we were focusing on building schools,
in Sierra Leone, Africa. We have chosen Sierra Leone
for a number of reasons. But the problems we have faced there,
the lessons that we have learned are not unique to that part of the world. Our organization,
one of the things that we promised, as its founding principle,
is that whatever we do, we will focus only on solutions
we believe are long-term and sustainable. As part of that promise, we do not spend any money
on North American salaries that 100% of the donations
can actually go to the end cause. And we’re trying to redefine
how charities are evaluated. So, I hope that gives you just a little bit of a snapshot
of the other part of me, so that when I now go on to explain
what I mean by “compassion kills,” that you understand
where I am coming from; you understand my heart. To illustrate this point,
I want to talk about a real person. Her name is Kathy Corbo. Her picture is up there on that screen. Kathy is an incredible
resilient young girl; she’s had to endure far too much
pain and suffering in her life. In 2001, Kathy’s mother died
of an unknown illness; in 2003, her father died
of an unknown illness. And so, at the age of five,
with no parents, she was placed into an orphanage. A few years later,
when I was traveling through Sierra Leone I came across that orphanage, I sat
down with the kids there and saw them, I was very encouraged
to see that they were happy, they were healthy,
they had roofs over their head they had food on their plate,
they had clothes on their back. But I was a little bit surprised
when sitting down with Kathy, she told me that she couldn’t read. She was eight years old at that time. A couple of years later, when I was
on another trip down to Sierra Leone – she was ten years old –
and I went back to the same orphanage, and I sat down with Kathy again
to see how far her reading had come. She still could not read properly to me. What was happening is that compassion
was keeping Kathy alive, but she was not developing
the skills required to become truly independent. And if this were to continue on
for a number of years what would eventually happen was
Kathy would likely go on to have kids, and let’s say, hypothetically,
Kathy goes and has two kids. There were then be three people
completely depending on charity. We know that’s not sustainable. And so one day,
they would have to go on their own and lacking the sufficient education
to lead a successful life, they would likely lead a life of poverty
until one day they would get sick, and without enough medication
to prolong their struggle, they would die. And this would likely happen one by one. And this is not an uncommon story
in Sierra Leone. It’s a country where the average person
is under the age of 19. It is a very, very tough place to be. At the beginning of my story, if no one would have done anything, I will admit, one person
probably would have died. But because of compassion
and the life saving actions it resulted in three people probably
would have died prematurely. You see, compassion kills. Compassion is one of those amazing things
that is hardwired into us, it is a part of our humanity. It is the type of thing that makes
grown men like me weep and cry when we see sick
or dying people in Africa. Compassion is the type of thing that causes us here in this auditorium
in our seats today, to go into the world
and to make it a better place tomorrow. But compassion has a downside, as well. It is so powerful, it has the ability to overcome
our common sense, our reason, it makes us shortsighted. It takes our time,
our attention, and our money away from long-term sustainable solutions and focuses us on short-term solutions
just to ease the pain. If you’ve seen this type of pain
I am talking about, you know what I mean,
because once you have seen it, it’s too late; compassion takes over. When you look at Kathy in the eye, and you realize that if you don’t save her
that she probably will die, your compassion will compel you
to do everything you can to save her and keep her alive, even if spending your money elsewhere, would have resulted in more lives
being saved in the end. I think most people, here,
today, would agree. Not all of you but most would agree
that saving people’s lives, merely by keeping them alive,
is not sustainable or efficient. But the reason that I’m here today,
what I want to tell you in my message, is that it isn’t just inefficient,
it is deadly. If your compassion compels you
to take an action, and that action results
in sustained dependence, and that sustained dependence
passes on through the generations, more people will die as a result. I am not trying to say that this is
the same as directly killing people, but often and unfortunately, in the end,
the results are the same. But I want you to hear my heart here
in what I am saying. If you think I am saying,
“Don’t help,” I am not. In fact, my goal, my hope for you
is that when you leave here today, you’ll be more motivated
to do humanitarian work than you were when you came here. But my plea to you today is that whatever you do,
whatever causes you support, that you ensure
they are specifically designed to allow the recipients of the charity
to become independent of the charity. You can do this by supporting causes that help build economies and create jobs: clean water projects, micro-finance,
building schools, operating schools. If you are supporting an orphanage
right now, I am not saying stop; but what I am saying is be proactive. Maybe make your donations tied
to the educational success of the kids, but do something to force the charity
to ensure that what they are doing allows the people to become
independent of the charity. When it comes to Africa, in particular,
we need to stop giving money to Africa, and we need to start
investing in Africans. Compassion is a wonderful thing.
It’s an amazing thing. I’m glad that we have it. But if we want to defeat poverty, we have to ensure that our compassion
does not overcome our reason even if it means having to look
the Kathys of this world in the eye and not helping them because we are focused on long-term
sustainable solutions elsewhere. But if, while you are working
on long-term solutions to poverty, you come across a Kathy, and your compassion
compels you to do something, I understand where you are coming from. See, last month, Kathy became my daughter. I know compassion kills,
but I am not willing to let it kill Kathy. Thank you. (Applause)

  • I'm not sure how I feel about this speaker. His points about charities administrative spending and helping people to improve their lives struck a note. But talking about compassion killing people is kind of a gimmick and a little disingenuous. It is compassion after all that leads to humanitarian work and the building of schools and making of clean water. I feel his message would have been better summed up focusing on doing real good not just temporary good.

  • I think it goes back to him going to business school first. It's like privatizing hospitals and such, you need to look at it efficiently. You can afford to feed 1000 people for 5 years or you can afford to regularly help 200 people every year to get off their feet and make something of themselves. The only difference is the latter means that after 5 years, you have 1000 people who can rely on themselves while the other side just has 1000 starving people again.

  • This guy used the words "I" or "me" so often that it is clear his charity isn't to make others feel good, but to make himself feel good. And why does this rich guy have to start up yet another charity? He couldn't find an existing charity worthy of his money? Gimme a break. It's all so he can brag to his rich pals about "his" charity – just as they brag about theirs…

  • Nolan's right. I understand and empathize with his general points; charity is not a good thing in and of itself, however noble, but this entire lecture is begging one key question.

    Why couldn't Cathy learn how to properly read? Was she neglecting her studies, or were the educational resources simply not there?

  • There's another objection to charity, not only on practical grounds but for ideological reasons: "Charity degrades and demoralizes. It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property." – Slavoj Zizek

  • He's wrong: He should first get to understand what compassion really means. It doesn't mean to feel pity for other people.Compassion is the virtue of empathy for the suffering of others. It is regarded as a fundamental part of human love, and a cornerstone of greater social interconnection and humanism —foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood.

  • Compassion is often regarded as emotional in nature, and there is an aspect of compassion which regards a quantitative dimension, such that individual's compassion is often given a property of "depth," "vigour," or "passion."

  • The etymology of "compassion" is Latin, meaning "co-suffering." More virtuous than simple empathy, compassion commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another's suffering. It is often, though not inevitably, the key component in what manifests in the social context as altruism. In ethical terms, the various expressions down the ages of the so-called Golden Rule embody by implication the principle of compassion: Do to others what you would have them do to you.

  • It's kinda ironic that he is the CEO of Sandstorm Gold a mining company. Company like this often exploit resources of less developed counties, over exploitation is of one causes that stopping capital inflow to those countries and destroying habitat for subsistence farming which potential leading to problems like famine and poverty.

  • People who think this speech is amazing are fairly stupid, and deserve to be taken for a ride by this snakes-oil salesman.

    1. 'Compassion' kills? Really? So when Mr. Watson so passionately preaches that it's important to create 'sustainable independence' to truly help the poor, he's not being compassionate? Definition fail.

    2. Who says we can't keep a child alive and educate her at the same time? This guy creates a false dichotomy – keep a child alive, or keep her uneducated?

  • I mean, I'm flabbergasted by him somehow thinking that keeping a girl alive prevents us from teaching her how to read. You can't teach a dead girl to read, you idiot.

    3. But let's say, for the sake of argument, that keeping a girl alive prevents her from becoming literate and a productive member of her society. So what, you are going to let her die in the name of 'sustainable independence'? WTF? This is akin to the logic 'ends justify the means'.

  • If you think the criticisms here are shallow, you haven't thought hard about them.

    Watson's main conclusion about promoting self-reliance is not wrong. It's just that he uses really shitty logic to get to them. The title of his speech is 'compassion kills' – in the end, he doesn't fucking prove it. And he flirts dangerously with pretty immoral ideas along the way.

  • Excellent speech. I myself am an ex Vancouverite in the central Peruvian Amazon working on ecological investments with a non profit. Impressive for a 26 year old.

  • ? In a nutshell: Blindly giving money to charitable organizations doesn't help…many will soak 50%+ of your dollars to fund 1st world staff and overhead…the remaining money goes to sustaining lives…but so very little goes to building those lives up and giving them a purpose and a future. You'll note two things: 1) he's talking to wealthy/powerful people, 2) he does NOT say "stop supporting starving children".

  • 1. Your own "false dichotomy" – he makes a point of stressing that he's not advocating letting them starve…he's lecturing the wealthy people at TEDx to get more involved and demand that the money they contribute be used to build up education and economic futures, not just prevent starvation

    2. You're missing the point…the example he used showed that the aid organizations and charitable funds WERE NOT educating her, despite very visibly giving her a roof and a bed and three squares a day

  • 1. He's not advocating letting them starve, I understand that – and that's compassion. Which he's supposed to be criticizing, at least given the title of his lecture.

    This might seem pedantic, but he has deliberately chosen a provocative proposition that he knows he's not going to seriously argue, so as to increase the shock value of his presentation. That's cheap.

  • 2. I am sure the charitable organizations would be able to educate her if more people gave them more money, out of compassion. So what was that about compassion kills?

    Conclusion: Nolan Watson should have titled his lecture something along the lines of 'Importance of business efficiency & long-term strategy at charitable organizations', because that's basically what he's arguing. And that's not a new argument – he just makes it seem like it's new and paradigm-shifting. Again, cheap.

  • Complete nonsense. Without compassion he would have never ended up on Africa in the first place . Sorry. But compassion is all that keeps this world alive. Would never agree with the wording he used.

  • Perhaps it's "blind" compassion, the modifier lacking, that would have satisfied your critique. Who asked for your scurrilous critique? Compassion is the noun, blind the modifier. Compassion; he did indicate, with specificity it's stripe. Did he not? Some people should realise the futility of words, the transcendence of silence. Your compassion, where is it?

  • He is a very clever person, to go out and say that. Compassion needs careful focus, and often lacks that because of charities' that are really just profit scams.
    The American Cancer Society is probably the biggest scam in history. They actually suppress any true cures, and function to maintain the chemotherapy status quo…
    Look up GERSON THERAPY, and you will see.

  • Of course no one needs to travel to Africa to find needy souls. Africa is simply the destination of those that need the world to know what un-racist types they are. Ironic since seeking out a particular race to help is by definition racist.

  • "Sophie's choice". Compassion can create hard decisions when we realise we physically can't save the entire world, which is the tragedy. One of Buddha's realisations was that Wisdom is a vital part of Compassion.
    In this TEDx Talk, Nolan Watson challenges us to think deeply about the meaning of compassion within a long-term societal context.

  • The girl in his example is being kept like a pet animal in a zoo. Think about it, do you care about that ferret's ability to survive independently in the wilderness, when its purpose is to sit around and let tourists gawk at it? It is dehumanizing the person, to give to him in this unsustainable way, to define him as a victim, just to quench your "privilege" guilty.

  • This is the logic of Vlad the Impaler. By this guy's reasoning, we should round up all the poor and kill them now so that the don't breed more poor that will die later. This what you expect from a bullshit artist who made himself a fortune in in the inhuman business of gold-field exploitation. I agree we need a more systematic approach to poverty, here it is: don't let creeps like this guy amass huge amounts money and power in the first place.

  • I am very sorry to hear this man talk like he did of compassion as a killer. What he is refering to as compassion is mere empathy and charity, which by the way are foundation for compassion. What I am most amazed at is that, while trying to make a powerful punch line, he completely overlooked that all of what he is doing is propelled and fueled precisely by his infitine compassion. So, No. Compassion is not a killer. It may be our shortsightedness, our limited conditions/resources or our greediness that prevent us from doing more than we do. Compassion is not only not wanting others to suffer but also to look for solutions to reduce or eliminate the suffering of others and self. So, I guess the rationale and title here are misguiding. So obviously it's his great compassion that has motivated him in the first place! The message here: dependency is not the answer. Empowerment is…to create a good life by your own effort. Thank you, Sir, for being such a compassionate being and for giving your new daughter the life she deserves. I hope in the future she follows in your steps.

  • That is what is happening (to a lesser extent) in our inner cities with their lousy government schools…the welfare checks…subsidizing broken families…rewarding poor decisions with more federal money (which is the least efficient "charity" on earth).

  • The title is very misleading. Compassion doesn't need to end with handouts of food and temporary shelter. Personal enrichment is compassion. Education is compassion, efforts to stabilize regions and provide safe locations to farm, to build and organize is compassion. More than people realize it's women who can help with this, since an educated woman will educate her children, empowering them even before they attend school. If her partner needs to leave the home to work, or if she ends up alone for any reason she will still be able to provide for their children, and do so much more efficiently if she has been educated. Her sons and daughters will leave the home prepared. Giving people a starting point IS compassion.

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