The other day I heard about an interesting phenomenon, called ‘compassion fatigue’.
“Compassion fatigue … describes a type of stress that results from helping or wanting to help those who are traumatized or under significant emotional duress.”
It is a common occurrence under professionals and caregivers that work in a helping or healing capacity, such as pastors, nurses, social workers and members of the police force.
There is however another take on the phenomenon:
“A secondary definition of compassion fatigue refers to the experience of any empathetic individual who is acutely conscious of societal needs but feels helpless to solve them. People who actively engage in charity, or volunteering, may come to feel that they cannot commit any more energy, time, or money to the plight of others because they feel overwhelmed or paralyzed by pleas for support and that the world’s challenges are never-ending.”
I think all of us can definitely relate to the latter definition. We scramble to collect and help out when there are fires in informal settlements, floods and droughts, pandemics and the ever-present poverty around us.
Today I want to share with you that I certainly suffer from compassion fatigue. The numerous emails, calls and WhatsApp’s for donations, the pleas on street corners for food or money, the weekly sight of the bin pickers on collection day and the suffering on the faces of those from all walks of life are sometimes simply overwhelming. We witness the palpable effects that hardship have on people and their functioning and while extending a helping hand, it simultaneously feels as if more and more needs that must be met, surface.
What can we do? We simply cannot stop. We can and may not grow tired of helping and giving. We cannot allow feelings of despondency to overcome our willingness and drive to make a difference in others’ lives. Albeit a small difference in only one life. Do it. Give it. Be there. Your time and attention may be more valuable than any amount of money you may or may not have. May we never become oblivious or desensitized by the needs of those around us.
Let us continuously pray for the wisdom of discernment on when to help and to give, and when to make a conscious decision not to enable bad habits and behaviour. Because we can turn ‘compassion fatigue’ into ‘compassion in action’.