The Bleeding Hearts

In an article titled "A new buzz at Hong Lim", the political editor of The Straits Times, Ms. Chua Lee Hoong said, "...The man who is proving to be the park's most frequent no bleeding heart social activist..." In one fell swoop, she labeled all social activists "bleeding hearts".

But what is the political definition of the word "bleeding heart"? Who first used the word, and under what circumstances? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "bleeding heart" as "a person who shows extravagant sympathy especially for an object of alleged persecution", the key words there being 'extravagant sympathy', meaning sympathy not ordinarily felt by anyone else; and 'alleged persecution', meaning the persecution is not proven. The phrase "bleeding heart", became popular in early 20th century America. Eleanor Roosevelt popularized the term by using it to refer to 'liberals'. In the yearly years of the last century, some people felt that government and private charities should do more to help relieve the suffering of the sick, homeless and unemployed. Those that didn’t , began calling these well meaning citizens “bleeding hearts”.

The treatment of the homeless, sick and unemployed by early 20th century America was strongly influenced by the ideology of social Darwinism, particularly the EUGENICS movement. The eugenics movement was based on the belief that selective breeding and breeding control would rid society of the inferior genetic material that was responsible for crime, mental illness, and retardation. Sterilization laws were an important tool of the eugenics movement. If the homeless, sick or unemployed were determined to be feeble-minded, it was not uncommon for them to be institutionalized and sterilized. The America of the early 20th century also drew a distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor. The deserving poor were considered worthy of public assistance because the causes of their poverty were beyond their individual control. The undeserving poor, however, were poor due to their flawed characters and personal faults, and were thus unworthy of aid. It was believed that if the undeserving poor were given assistance, their numbers would simply increase.

History has shown that those labeled as "bleeding hearts" were neither extravagantly sympathetic nor were the persecutions, mere allegations. The "Bleeding Hearts"of the day were, as are the social activists of today, the conscience of the society and the champions of the day against these discrimination and flawed mindsets.

Such a write-up by a political editor of the mainline newspaper begs the asking, "why were social activists labeled as such?" Is it to paint the issues championed by the social activists as being merely trivial? Or because she wants to emphasize that that the Singapore government "have done better than communist and socialist countries in looking after the poor" and that the issues raised by the social activists are