Today I’d like to talk about compassion fatigue. Compassion Fatigue is a term that first arose to describe aid workers that experienced a unique form of burnt-out: i.e. that rather than just getting extra tired or burnt out they actually became indifferent to the very cause they valued in the first place.
indifference to charitable appeals on behalf of suffering people, experienced as a result of the frequency or number of such appeals.
Now I don’t want this post to be a debate about semantics, but rather a discussion about how I think this concept of fatigue is very important right now.
We live a strange time. I don’t want to get too political but I think its relevant. Back in 2007-8 when Barrack Obama was elected president of the U.S. I believe many people felt a huge swell of hope, and promise for the future. It wasn’t just that the U.S. had elected a Black president or that George W. Bush a fairly unpopular one was outgoing. Rather I think it was a combination of several things, the fact that the voting public were able to look past skin colour, and the potentially provocative middle name (Hussein) and elect an eloquent, diplomatic, considered world leader. I believe this is reflected in such examples as Obama winning a Nobel Peace Prize within short time of entering office.
Now before you think this is just a gush piece for times gone by, that’s not my point. Very quickly within that time period a major financial crash hit the world, many of the POTUS’s promises stalled and over time people began to realize that despite the prize the amount of international violence that the U.S. was involved in was still extremely high.
I’m not just looking at the U.S. here either, between Brexit, Syria, IS, Russia, Israel/Palestine one doesn’t have to look too far to see turmoil. War, global warming, corruption, everything you can imagine.
My point is though its been a long while since there has been a feeling of the world being a good place – but that is something I would like to confront in a couple of posts.
The thing is – even though I find this hard to accept (even writing it down is a little hard) so much of what is going on in the world is the Same Shit Different Day. If anything the world has continued to improve on a number of very important levels consistently for a long time. Child poverty is on the decline cures for diseases once though incurable are being developed frequently.
So what’s going on then, if I believe the world isn’t that bad right now.
My answer is in the beginning of the post. I believe that the way many of us interact with information and current events is leading to compassion fatigue. Never before has our awareness been able to stretch so far across the globe. I wasn’t even aware of the shape or nature of politics of half the countries in the Middle East before the region became so unstable. Sure newspapers have always peddled bad-news, because if it bleeds it leads, but now we’ve got so many delightful tools at our disposal, I love my smart phone but I’m starting to see the drawbacks. Heck sometimes I like to just sit and look around at the world when I have a moment to wait, but its surprisingly hard to unplug.
Anyways the point is that our reach has become too long. Most of us can get up to date information on almost any part of the world, but there is typically a negative bent on any news and the truth is most of us exert very little influence on the majority of the worlds problems.
I believe that most of us are compassionate, that given half an opportunity we would help, even in big ways. But we live in an imbalance we can see the injustice and pain, but there is precious little we can do, we’ve become the innocent bystanders in comic book stories. And this spreads our compassion out, and burns it off.
Its time to go work, part 2 (hopefully the cheerful part) will be soon!