Updated: Dec 29, 2018
Imagine going home for Christmas and, to relief your family from all the cooking, you decide to cook them your favorite dish. You know it’s a big group with an even bigger appetite so you spend hours in the kitchen to prepare an enormous amount of food to bring to the Christmas dinner. Proud of the final result and satisfied with your good deed, you drive to your childhood home and ring the doorbell. The door opens and before you can say ‘Merry Christmas’ your uncle pulls you in the door and says: ‘We need your help. The table still needs to be set and you need to go to the local shop to get some extra napkins and wine. Hurry, everyone’s waiting!’ You get back into your car and drive to the local shop. When you get back, you walk in carrying the napkins, wine and dish you’ve spent hours preparing and your cousin lashes out: ‘What!? There is cow milk in the dish? You KNOW I’m a vegan!’ You quickly try to think of a solution, but at that moment one of your parents takes you aside and asks if you could please maw the lawn before the other guests arrive. You haste yourself towards the garden and when you’ve got the lawn mower to work your uncle marches up to you, his face red with anger: ‘I thought you said you were going to set the table!’. That’s it, you’ve had enough. CAN’T SOMEBODY ELSE DO IT!?
This, to me is what compassion fatigue feels like. Compassion fatigue is defined as: ‘Indifference to charitable appeals on behalf of suffering people, experienced as a result of the frequency or number of such appeals.’ There is just too much in the world to worry about but too little time, money, energy and influence to fix it. In 2017, this included Donald Trump’s travel ban; a terrorist attack at Ariana Grande’s concert in Manchester; a shooting in LA killing 58 people; North Korea performing a nuclear test; sexual allegations starting the #MeToo movement; Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the triggering of Article 50 starting the Brexit process, the Panama papers, 39.000 fatalities because of the Syrian Civil war and 15.000 because of the Mexican drug war. This is incredibly saddening and can feel paralyzing. I’m here to argue that it shouldn’t be.
There is a saying:
‘The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.’
So why do good people do nothing? I think that often it is not because we don’t care but because we care too much. Not only that, we feel like it is morally just or superior to care about everything. That's why we have a Facebook filter in the shape of a flag after a terrorist attack. To show others just how much we care. But everything is a LOT. To illustrate, the amount of cat videos to online, the amount you still needed to study the night before your exams, or the amount of times ‘Soldaat van Oranje’ announced they were going to quit don’t even come close to everything.
So stop caring about everything and start caring about something.
Instead, focus on one thing you want to improve and do it. You can donate 1% of your income to a cause you feel passionate about, volunteer in something you enjoy doing or even just take some time to listen attentively to the holiday stories of your colleagues. You can be aware of problems in the world, but you are not helping anyone by feeling sad about them, so stop. Do something not everything. Trust that others will do something too.
If my uncle would have set the table, my cousin would have brought her own vegan lasagna and my dad would have mowed the lawn, I would have just had to drive to the local shop and would have been on time to watch ‘All you need is love’ (biggest guilty pleasure - sorry, not sorry), which would have definitely made me a more pleasant person the whole year through.
The new year is almost beginning so instead (or in addition to) your personal new year's resolutions, like going to the gym, eating healthy etc., I'd like to challenge you to come up with one resolution that will positively affect the people around you.
Happy new year!
PS. The Guardian recently published a long read about compassion fatigue. You can be super eager and read the whole thing, or you can be like me and listen to the podcast in which they read the article to you: https://www.theguardian.com/news/audio/2018/sep/17/is-compassion-fatigue-inevitable-in-an-age-of-24-hour-news-podcast
Author: Lotte Cloostermans