GENE ROBERTSON: Protecting the vulnerable is our responsibility

Monday, November 14, 2011 | 4:48 p.m. CST

Servicemen and women, veterans and their families, our youth, the elderly, the underemployed, patients, clients, prisoners and others designated as potential collateral damage are among the vulnerable.

These vulnerable groups are often misused, ignored and sacrificed when their well-being, safety or other needs are weighed against prominent individuals, institutions and organizations.


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Every profession has its strong protection mechanisms, both formal and informal. As a consequence, the vulnerable can be mistreated and victimized. 

Those entrusted with the welfare of our vulnerable have a great responsibility. They must understand and behave according to the privilege and responsibility invested in them.

They must have sensitivity and morality. They must not ignore their charge. We are expected to do unto others, as we would have them do unto us.

The source of damage to vulnerable individuals is often the devaluation of some people as less worthy than institutions, organizations or other human beings.

If mistakes are acknowledged and corrected, such damages can be contained. Institutions are compromised when they attempt to hide negative behavior among their members.

We can best avoid such damages by hiring, electing, appointing and promoting leaders who exhibit character that will enable them to do the work, take the heat and hold all they interact with accountable.

Genuine leaders don't shy away from responsibility to anyone who might be affected by them, directly or indirectly. Leadership, empathy and compassion are assets, not liabilities.

We must understand that we are all vulnerable or potentially vulnerable.

We must ensure that our institutions, organizations and participants are aware of policies, behaviors and expected outcomes that are directed toward protecting the vulnerable.  

We must make sure, to the best of our abilities, that the weak and vulnerable don't become the spoils of power.

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus at MU.

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Michael Williams November 14, 2011 | 9:32 p.m.

I read this article multiple times.

Each time I came away with some sort of reader's discomfort, the source of which I was unable to identify.

I'm not saying I disagree with the article; no, it was something else.

And then I reread the words "devaluation of some people", which the author attributes to those who can, through their devaluation of others, contribute to vulnerability.

I realized that while the entire article was sympathetic, it was also a devaluation of others in-and-of itself. It was caring, but it was condescending. There was superior over the inferior. It offered sympathy, but no real help in that it made folks victims rather than folks who can overcome devaluation and become empowered. According to the article, all hope stems from others.

And that is the most un-empowering of all.

People who care and are sympathetic and wish to help have to be VERY careful not to let condescension and devaluation of others (via a superior position) creep in.


(Report Comment)
frank christian November 15, 2011 | 7:43 a.m.

"Servicemen and women, veterans and their families, our youth, the elderly, the underemployed, patients, clients, prisoners and others designated as potential collateral damage are among the vulnerable." Did he leave Anyone out?

This imo, is the elitist, from his place on high, dictating, albeit subtly, how the "rest of us" must react to one another.

My guess would be that he also opposes cuts in the Federal Budget.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield November 15, 2011 | 8:07 a.m.

We also must carefully distinguish between those who are vulnerable by choice (e.g., choosing to drop out of high school, choosing to get hooked on drugs, choosing not to save for retirement or a rainy day, choosing to have children they can't support) and those who are vulnerable through no fault of their own (e.g., cancer, job loss). We must be willing to tell that first group to expect no help so we can concentrate on the latter group.

(Report Comment)
Joy Mayer November 15, 2011 | 11:24 a.m.

Chuck Dudley thinks this story is great, and he asked me to add that comment on his behalf.

Joy Mayer,
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)

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