A series on Karuna, Part 3: Compassion fatigue and our social identity

This is a mini series on compassion. Written by Emily Curtis for Parimukti

Part 3: Compassion fatigue and our social identity 

When you engage with current affairs do you feel angry, sorrow, or exhaustion? The refugee crisis happening across the Middle East, income and racial disparity, abuse of our planet Earth? Or if you’re like me, and you shy away from the news as much as possible, what about walking down the street to see the injustice of poverty, or a suffering animal?

If we are connected, quite literally by our newspapers, TVs, the internet, the environment, our five senses, and we feel feelings of sorrow when injustice is perpetuated, then isn’t that a sign that we also have the seeds of compassion for our greater sense of humanity? Isn’t that a positive thing?

I believe these are the seeds of compassion that extend beyond our personal identities, beyond our interpersonal relationships, and into the larger sphere of connectivity we experience. Compassion for larger communities can be hard to sustain, and understand fully. For example, it isn’t obvious that there is a part of myself that I can I take responsibility for when I witness mass injustice. And so this attempt at compassion can lead me to burn out, to shut down, or to feelings of helplessness. Hence, why I limit my intake of current affairs.

But, as I’m writing this, I’m reminded of how the inner relationship of one person creates the outer expression for that person, casting ripples out into their orbit. So as we work on developing compassion on the personal level, that will extend, albeit in its own time, to the fabric of our larger community.

I worked in a land rights context in the tribal belt in India. Under the Forest Rights Act, tribal forest dwelling communities are able to claim land tenure for their ancestral land. These rights extend to the community also, for common land and common resources. However, we noticed time and again, that until all of the individuals in the community claimed their land, rights at the community level did not get claimed. I believe this to be a possible analogue for how self-love and self- compassion operate. As we truly develop compassion for ourselves, only then can we extend that compassion sustainably into the greater sphere.

'Kibativillagers' by Julien Harneis

Have you had the experience of compassion fatigue? What do you do to manage this?


Photo credentials: “Kibativillagers” by Julien Harneis -http://www.flickr.com/photos/julien_harneis/3009852745/sizes/l/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kibativillagers.jpg#/media/File:Kibativillagers.jpg

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