"Compassion fatigue" is a term applied most often to caregivers who have what most of us would call burnout. (Clinically, compassion fatigue is considered a secondary traumatic distress disorder as opposed to the type of stress that the term "burnout" usually implies.) Doctors, emergency workers, police, firemen, clergy, and relatives who are caregivers for seriously ill family members can all be affected by the relentless needs of the people they are trying to help. Who wouldn't run out of steam when serving in such a demanding role? But it turns out that the public as a whole can be affected by it, too.
An NPR.org report by Jeffrey A. Dvorkin about the excellent "All Things Considered" coverage after Hurricane Katrina found that while many listeners appreciated the fine work of the journalists, other listeners said, essentially, enough already with the devastation. Those listeners had hit the wall and simply couldn't muster another iota of compassion, even though there's no doubt that they were intellectually aware of the continuing reality of the horrible situation. It wasn't just Katrina that had worn them, and all of us, down; it was 9-11, the tsunamis, Iraq, Darfur, and so many other crises, including local issues.
I wonder if we're at risk of a sort of shopper's compassion fatigue, too. How many of us are trying to balance of the demands of just getting through the day with our desire to make thoughtful purchases? A simple grocery list can become a veritable minefield of potential decision-making challenges. Organic? Toxic chemicals? Fair trade? Health considerations affected by fat grams or carbs or allergic ingredients? Manufacturing processes? Recyclable packaging? Child labor? Vegetarian or not? Vegan? Employee benefits by the manufacturing company or the store where we're shopping? And at what price do our choices become unaffordable? Enough already with the thoughtfulness! At some point all you want to do is be able to make dinner.
So, let's take this moment to remember that it's okay to give ourselves a break. No one can possibly sort through, let alone assimilate, so much consumer information and then always make flawless buying choices. It's overwhelming.
Instead, let's take a more reasonable approach that will help you (and me) stay calm. First, let's remember that eliminating the unnecessary stuff in your home is a big mood booster. Not having to deal with a cluttered environment gives you breathing room, literally in your home and figuratively in your head. An uncluttered mind is better able to make informed choices.
When making those informed choices, the only rule is, "Do the best you can." If it's too much to tackle every issue that you know is "important" to you and your family's health and the survival of the planet (talk about pressure!), pick just one. And maybe pick just a small portion of that one issue that you'll work on. Maybe you'll decide to buy organic peanut butter. Period. Good for you!
Every tiny step in the right direction helps move us all forward. Let's just be careful to avoid that big wall up ahead.
(c) 2007 Cynthia Friedlob