Don't cut compassion

So the great experiment begins. Soon the American people will start to feel the impact of President Reagan's bold revolution to turn the nation away from the New Deal and Great Society of recent decades and to foster a climate of reliance on the private sector and in dividual initiative to promote economic growth. Will it work? That is the unanswerable question everyone asks. But one things is clear. To have a fair chance of working will require of Americans a heightened sense of compassionate concern for each other and a willingness to find innovative ways of helping themselves as well as their neighbors.

No one knows the magnitude of personal hardships that will arise as the President's program is implemented. Few people quarrel with Mr. Reagan's economic goal of generating business activity and creating new jobs. And most seem to agree that the time has come to rein in the growth of government services and regulations in the interest of freeing up the nation's energies. But the fact remains that the burden of this sea change in social policy will fall hardest on the poor and those at the bottom of the income ladder. The basic welfare programs remain intact, to be sure. But with hundreds of thousands of families losing benefits, and scores of programs and services suddenly cut back, there is little doubt that many people face extremely hard times.

will Americans jump into the breach with larger support for charities and voluntary organizations? Such increased sensitivity will be important not only to meet genuine humanitarian need in this period of adjustment but to forestall any groundswell of bitterness that might lead to social divisiveness and tensions. As the economic experiment goes forward, it should not be forgotten that, while the President is busy turning power back to the states and localities for many federal programs, states and localities are themselves feeling financial strains because of budget cutbacks. Many will have difficulties accepting their new responsibilities.

Larger private and corporate philanthropic giving is an obvious means of alleviating economic stress, and it is to hoped that charities will find the flow of funds rising to meet greater demand. President Reagan himself has called for a new "spirit of volunteerism" and promises to form a task force to study successful volunteer programs in such areas as employment, housing, education, and health care -- and then to provide government incentives to fuel more such programs. The White House has in mind such private-sector endeavors as the organization developed by some 100 businessmen in New York City to generate summer jobs for youth, give managerial assistance to the city transit system, and carry out other public projects.

Beyond such initiatives is also the conspicuous and encouraging growth in recent years of "self-help" volunteerism. Such individual and community activities as energy coops, vegetable gardens, preventive health care programs, and employee/community ownership of local businesses now are making a significant contribution to the economy, according to the Worldwatch Institute. To cite but one example of what cam be accomplished at the local level, the city of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, reduced its residential energy consumption in 1979 by 14 percent when the townspeople helped each other make their homes more energy-efficient.

In these times of budget austerity, in short, it is such willingness to work together, to explore creative approaches to community service -- above all to be mindful of the needs of others -- that may dictate the success or failure of the rEagan revolution. No american should feel it a burden to have to dig deeper into his unfailing well of intelligence and compassion.

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