“Compassion fatigue” – seems to me to be incomprehensible – even reprehensible. Surely the heart does not stop caring.
How do we come to a place of “compassion fatigue”? What is it that has shifted from caring in a tangible way, to complacency or even seeming powerless?
We become desensitized to that which would make our heart mourn or move us with compassion. As I pondered – I understood from a giant billboard SELF STORAGE.
As as a human rights worker, I was confronted by the term “compassion fatigue” from supporters who no longer wanted to see images of victims of human rights abuse. The rawness of the constant suffering had become too difficult to bear.
I am not talking here of exhaustion. I understand we cannot stay in the front line of caring without support, care and respite. There is a time and a season for us.
I am talking of a turning point – a time at which we harden our hearts and deny our suffering world. We deny our own capacity to suffer with our selves and others. We deny extending ourselves to be compassionate to one another.
When people talk of agencies “they no longer trust” or when working with youth in desperate life situations – I am “warned” not to give too much. Yesterday I heard people decrying those who were speaking compassionately on behalf of the refugees.
Do we decry the voice of the poor?
Can we have ever had enough compassion? How do we grow in mercy and compassion?
As Isaiah says let our hearts be broken…
that we may weep with those who are weeping.
Rilke’s words talk of our God – a God of mercy and compassion -suffering with us today.
You are the poor one, you the destitute.
You are the stone that has no resting place.
You are the diseased one
whom we fear to touch.
Only the wind is yours.
You are poor like the spring rain
that gently caresses the city;
like wishes muttered in a prison cell, without a world to hold them;
and like the invalid, turning in his bed to ease the pain.
Like flowers along the track, shuddering
as the train roars by, and like the hand
that covers our face when we cry – that poor.
Yours is the suffering of birds on freezing nights,
of dogs who go hungry for days.
Yours the long sad waiting of animals
who are locked up and forgotten.
You are the beggar who averts his face,
the homeless person who has given up asking;
you howl in the storm.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from “ The Book of Poverty and Death, III,18″
Translated by Anita Barrows and Joana Macy, Riverhead Press, 1996 p.141