Compassion Fatigue

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On a recent car trip, I listened to the On Being podcast where Krista interview New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Kristof is known for shining light to some of the humanitarian crisis happening across the globe.

Kristof talks about compassion fatigue, which is exactly what it sounds like- growing tired of caring about the things we should care about. Kristof says, “And we all know that there is this compassion fatigue as the number of victims increases, but what the research has shown that is kind of devastating is that the number at which we begin to show fatigue is when the number of victims reaches two.”

Today’s daily office lectionary reading include John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (NRSV) I’m hoping anyone who reads this and is seminary educated will correct me if I’m wrong, but the language implies that love is something that happens one on one. Maybe we’re not really equipped to multi-task in love.

So when we hear accurate statistics like one million people die every year from malaria, mostly children under 5 and in 2010 there were an estimated 390,000 new HIV infections among children, our brains can’t really process that. Or at least mine can’t. However, tell me one of the kids I worked with when I lived in South Africa is in trouble and, woah buddy! My mama bear instincts will come out swinging.

And to bring it to a local level, communities are nothing more than web of relationships. One on one on one on one. At least for me, if I try function more than this way, bring on the compassion fatigue.

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