By Caitlin Creeper
I started this article raring to write about Earth Hour. What could be more fitting for the the issue’s “blackout” theme? A movement that literally causes the voluntary blackout of not only hundreds of thousands of homes, but national historical landmarks across the globe such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Colosseum, the Eiffel Tower, even our very own Sydney Harbour bridge. I mean, that’s the kind of thing that you only see in big budget apocalyptic films. It’s cool, right? It’s…
I didn’t get beyond the first paragraph. It seemed there was only two ways to portray the worldwide movement. One, in promotion of the event. Something along the lines of: world joins together to raise environmental conscience! But not only does it seem all the synonyms for “global movement” and “change” and “inspiring” have been used up, but doesn’t it feel like we’ve all read it all before?
This isn’t an attack on Earth Hour. Yes, it’s an incredible cause. I’m behind any movement trying to reverse the untold damage us greedy anthropoids have inflicted upon our beautiful earth. But this brings me to the second way I could have portrayed earth hour; the anti-way. The ‘we’ve already done too much damage for an hour to make a difference’ standpoint. The ‘ugh, yet another wrong we need to right, another cause to get behind, another donation we need to make’ standpoint. Sound familiar? And that’s not what this article is. It’s about what happens when you’re battered with cause after cause, disaster after disaster, day after day, that you start kind of… stop caring.
It turns out compassion fatigue is an actual thing. The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma found that the media could be to blame for this bleugh attitude we sometimes get. Dart Center argues the news media batters us with decontextualised images of suffering and disasters to the point we start to slowly emotionally withdraw. Add that to the endless churning-out of big budget movies literally showing us what the end of the world looks like. Instead of scaring us into big action, it makes us switch off when we see the warning signs happening out in the real world.
If this news sends you on a guilt trip, hold up a second.
It’s not that we’re bad people, psychologists argue. It’s just that being constantly battered with these images can reduce one’s inclination to get on the streets and protest the latest injustice, or put our coin toward that latest cause. We’re not suddenly okay with another persons suffering, or with the impending doom we’re inevitably going to face on an environmental scale. But we are numb in such a way that we can let the most devastating of circumstances that don’t directly apply to us, slide off our shoulders with a bit more ease.
So we’re not bad people. Insensitive, yes. Selfish… maybe. But not inherently bad.
What can we do then, armed with this knowledge? What do we do about our compassion fatigue?
Look, to be honest, I don’t even know. But the way I see it, there are a few ways we can deal with the fact that there are thousands of well-meaning causes out there, each of extreme importance. We can:
Try to help every cause in existence
If you’re in this category of thinking, you’re a better person than I am. We can try donating every cent, all twenty-four hours of our seven day week to all the causes under the sun. Yes, it might result in epic changes the world inherently needs. It also might result in extreme exhaustion, depression, loss of quality of life, etc.
Pick your battles / go in hard
I’m more inclined to go this road. Rather than spread yourself so thin you’re a drawn- out mess who’s no good to anyone, why not pick an issue or two you’re really passionate about. Then sink your teeth in and go in hard, hard as you like.
If you’re against animal cruelty, commit to vegetarianism and stick to it, come hell or high water. If you’re against the shark cull (really, who isn’t), join in, volunteer at the rallies, raise awareness, sign every shark- cull related petition under the sun. I don’t have all the answers and these might not be the answers to the myriad problems you’re trying to solve but you get my point. If you’re sick of feeling helpless, or guilty for leading such a privileged life when there’s so much suffering, maybe a step in the right direction is focusing on one issue and doing as much for that one issue that you can. “He who chases two rabbits catches none” and all that.
Succumb to this compassion fatigue and shut off.
This is a route commonly taken. If it all really is too much for you, and you’d rather switch off and just enjoy the miracle that is you’re alive and living your life, then that’s your choice. I just urge you this, for god’s sake let the people trying to make a difference do their thing. Don’t try and talk them down or get in their way.
(and make sure you give them your name and number so when the arctic melts and we’re all floating listlessly down the street on coffee tables from our now-submerged homes, they can call you and say “I told you so.”)
I think the key is to remind yourself that life really does turn on a five-cent piece. Everything might be cruisy for you now, but you can’t guarantee you’ll be immune from any kind of suffering for the entire duration of your life. The kind of suffering that requires help from complete strangers, just as you once were, and once had the power to do for others. I think it’s about not drowning in the sheer volume of wrongs that need to be righted, feels that need to be felt. But it’s also not about building a wall between you and the worlds injustices and switching off either. I think it’s about being aware, being compassionate, and helping where you realistically can. And that’s all I can really say.