Okay, so it did mean essentially what I thought it'd mean. I guess my primary issue here is this: there are a lot of interactions you have with other people that not only *only* require empathy but instances of "rational compassion" actually hurts things. Like, I don't know, a friend complains to you that they're having problems with money, or is having relationship issues, etc.... it's entirely possible that all they want out of you is empathy/sympathy and if you go ahead and, like, give them advice or go a step further and gift them money or something, you're intruding on things to a large extent (in the latter case, there's no such thing as a "gift" really; even if you assume it is and make it clear that you never expect the money back, the other party's relationship with you will be forever altered by that. It's just the way human minds work, unfortunately). You can play with the terms and say that that violates the precepts of rational compassion but I really think that's stretching things.
My other issue here is that there is a very... how do I say... conservative stripe to this. Rational compassion, I think, implies two things:
1. You understand what the other party's issue is as well if not better than they do.
2. You understand how to fix the other party's issue as well if not better than they do.
I tend not to give money to homeless people because, frankly, I'm selfish and I don't usually carry cash. I live in the city and see many of the same panhandlers every day and my experience is that if I give someone money once or twice they will come to expect this from me every time I see them. There's also a point to where I feel like the way humans work, if I give money to a homeless person it'll make me feel like I've already done all my good things for the week and so don't need to give to charity (which, granted, I also don't do enough) or lobby for public programs to treat these folks. What I *don't* do is avoid giving them money because they'll just spend it on drugs. I don't actually *know* if they're better off or not on drugs - I know that sounds like a weird thing to say but an awful lot of people who are on the streets suffer from some kind or another of mental illness and, frankly, medicate themselves with illicit drugs (and yes, even stuff like heroin is useful in treating chronic pain or perhaps even MDD or BPD - it's way addictive, of course, but it's not like you're going to be able to score lithium from your local dealer). Or hell, maybe they just want to do drugs because drugs are fun or because their life is already too fucked up to save and they may as well have fun with it. I feel like it's not really my place to tell these people that they can't ruin their own lives, or even that their lives are ruined in their own terms, necessarily.
Related: James Baldwin's short story Sonny's Blues
Seriously, when it comes to welfare in particular I am a proponent of just giving the poor money. Not food stamps that come with the provision that they can only spend it on certain things, not attached to people who periodically inspect the recipients to make sure that they are living a "proper" lifestyle, just a check every two weeks that they can spend on whatever it is they feel like they should spend the money on. Yes, I get that there are moral hazards here (for example, the fear that some of these people will take welfare while making money for stuff under the table - I'm not saying this can never happen and in fact growing up there was a friend of the family who did exactly this so I know it happens) but the thing about moral hazards is that we never really know how big of an issue they're going to be until you face them. My own family's relationship with welfare, by the way, was that we felt deep shame for having to get on it in the first place, and while there's this kind of fucked up loophole in the US system where a a family with 2 breadwinners can work full time at crap jobs, bring in *less* than what they were getting when only one member of the family was able to work, and still get kicked off of welfare because reasons (an issue that, by the way, ought to be closed by providing a sliding scale, but I digress), but nevertheless when my parents faced this point they *still* continued to keep those crappy jobs because, like the vast majority of people, I think, they actually preferred working and supporting themselves to not working and relying on the state for support.
Anyway, that's just one example of why I'm not the biggest fan. I feel like the concept of rational compassion attempts to circumvent this by insisting that a. there is a "rational" solution that will resolve issues like AIDS or poverty or cancer or [insert issue here] where, rationally speaking, there *is* no single resolution because people are complicated. Sometimes - a lot of the time, in fact - the actual best thing we can do is ask people what it is that they want or need and provide that for them. Yes, there are exceptions but I don't know that there are so many that we need to recalibrate things like empathy.