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Posted by on Oct 6, 2013 in Socio Economics | 7 comments

Compassion Fatigue


Recently, presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused 47% of the Americans of feeling entitled to governmental benefits, lacking personal drive and initiative and being a drain on society. Leaving aside for the moment the validity of this assessment and the fact that no one has a greater sense of entitlement than the ruling class, the question remains. 

How should we treat the hapless? What public policy provides the necessary assistance to those in need sans making them even dependant on public assistance? How does society encourage effort on the part of the broken, the marginalized, the exploited and the demoralized without further breaking, marginalizing, exploiting and demoralizing them?

Is life difficult? Of course it is. Life is short, brutish and incredibly unfair. Some are favored by the Gods with a smooth, straight road that points forever upward and onward. Others face an uneven, rocky terrain loaded with traps, obstacles and landmines that derail even the most determined, the most deserved. Making matters worse, our laws are anything but fair, helping the preferred while harming the disfavored. To a large extent bias against certain groups is intentional and generational failure is programmed. Such is life. For these reasons we should always empathize with those less fortunate and those who fall by the wayside. 

This does not mean however, that any of us should give up. Regardless of our station in life, we are still obligated to keep trying, to work hard, to make a difference in our lives and to our communities. The cost of living is to leave the world a better place than we found it. Effort and tenacity are no guarantee of success. But giving up is certainly a prescription for failure.

Regrettably, some of us have stopped trying. Many decide early on to do nothing, to achieve nothing, a decision that crosses are all races, colors, genders, political affiliations, national origins and creeds. Their achievement, successes and accomplishments are few if any in large part because they refuse to even try.

Some are able bodied, possess all of their faculties and have a modicum of intelligence. Yet, they have no aims, no ambition and no goals. They are more than unemployed or underemployed. They lack the desire to even look for gainful employment. In fact, you couldn’t hire them if you wanted to. Offer to pay them for raking leaves or cleaning a yard and many will say, “hell no.” My back hurts, I’m disabled, it’s too hot or that’s too much work for the amount you want to pay. “You ain’t using me” they self righteously respond.

While not true of all, many demand assistance yet complain when they receive it. One man in particular stands out.  Each day his job is to panhandle, to beg for money, to acquire just enough for that day. His approach never varies.

He surveys the scene like a vulture does a carcass made ripe by the evening sun.  He picks out the best dressed or the most sympathetic looking gentle man or woman. He starts with his rehearsed line. “Sir/Miss. I don’t mean no disrespect, but can I ask you something. My mother just had an operation and I need to get to the hospital.” “I haven’t eaten all day” or maybe “I’m homeless and I don’t have any money to sleep in the shelter. Can you give me some money?” If met with resistance he always grasps his hand in prayer. “Please in the name of Jesus, can you bless me with three dollars”, he intones.

He summarily rejects offers to feed him or take him to see his mother. And he doesn’t want just any food. He wants fried chicken.

Now imagine this scene repeated every day, multiple times a day, by multiple people. After a while you get so tired of giving, so worn out from caring, so angry at being asked time and time again that your kindness simply wears out. A hard callous develops around your heart and compassion fatigue sets in.

The carpel tunnel syndrome of empathy, compassion fatigue is triggered by repetitive exploitation of empathy to the point of overuse. The resulting micro-trauma causes severe damage to our sense of human kindness. The prescription is rest. But there is no rest, no surcease from the constant need of others. There is therefore no opportunity to heal. So without realizing or even willing it you become an insensitive ass. “No I don’t have any money to give you and quit asking. Get a job you lazy bastard” becomes your go to reply.

This is no political diatribe or the angry ravings of a social conservative. It bears repeating that in terms of a sense of entitlement, the upper class is worse than the disenfranchised. Nor, are liberals any more enlightened, any more humane than their political counterparts. More importantly, these comments are not directed at those who need or request assistance. They are instead aimed at those of us who suffer from fatigue of the heart.  Precisely how do we maintain a sense of kindness, the ability to care for and about others when our basic humanity is stretched beyond its breaking point?

Perhaps the solution lies in one indisputable, one inescapable fact. God, the universe, karma, call it whatever you will has a perfect system of accounting. Ever time you wrong someone a debit appears on your account. While ever act of random kindness is money in the bank which compounds daily.

So even when you are tired of giving, even though you have nothing left to share, giving to others does more for the giver than the receiver. Sharing the positives and troubles of this world, is an act of self healing. It provides stark perspective to one’s meager problems and makes you a better person. Hence caring about others is always in the givers best interest. This is especially true of society at large which is judged by how it treats the least of us rather than the greatest of us. And as someone once said, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

As always, your feedback is more than welcome. Comment via this blog, Blackacre’s hotmail at or visit the website at


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