By Mary Beth Danielson
I was driving back to work today after meeting a friend for lunch. On the radio was an interview with a woman who works for a medical services program in Haiti.
I won’t go into the sad urgencies in that beleaguered country. Decimated by poverty, rocked (literally) by the earthquake, subjected to torrential rains, now it is on the teetering edge of a cholera epidemic. The interviewer asked the doctor, “But how do you raise funds when people seem to be suffering compassion fatigue?”
Apparently the phrase means that if we hear too many hard luck stories, we shut down and pay attention to none of them.
Oh, on some levels I get it. There are more places to give money than we have money to give. There are more cause to support, than we have energy and time to support.
But Compassion Fatigue? What an ugly thought and phrase. Do we really, really want to measure out our empathy in doses, like cups of flour in a cake? Is it okay for us to shut our eyes, close our ears, and just say, “Oops, sorry, I gave at the office”? Or “So sorry, I can’t think about suffering anymore, I have too much to do. I’m really very busy, you know.”
Compassion fatigue? Good heavens. Compassion makes us be our best selves.
Did you know that compassion is a stage of development? When small children play together, and one bumps his noggin and cries, and the kid next to him hands him a Teddy bear -- that moment of tyke compassion is a sign of healthy human development.
Which begs the question. What do you call it when banks, or investment firms, or the uber-rich take over a viable, working company; then squeeze it with layoffs to “maximize profit”?
This is what happens. Raw greed takes over and our best humanity flies out the window. As we Americans, living in this time, know too well.
Here’s another thing. Look at your life. When were you more beautiful, more noble, or having more fun than when you were inconveniently generous? When you made extra food and shared it, how great did you feel later? When you worked with others to fix a house for a person in need, did that make you less or more of an awesome person? When you joined a group that traveled across the county or across the globe to do your small part to serve people in need; was that awful or was that fun?
For me it was so many moments. I have helped host dozens of Mayaworks Fair Trade sales of products made by Maya women in Guatemala. It’s always a pile of work, and I’d be lying if I said I did all this with the Light of The Divine in my soul. Nah, I complain a lot.
But I went to Guatemala. I stayed some days in the home of a MayaWorks weaver. I played checkers (I’d brought the game with me) on a rickety wooden table, beneath the only light bulb in the dark, unpainted, very, very poor home, with the handsome, dark-eyed 15-year-old son of the family. He was the only person in that family of 12 who sort of understood the rules of the game. And, I swear, the other 11 members of the family all crowded around us in that dim room, cheering him on, except for 10-year-old Patricia who wanted me to win. I lost. She hugged me anyway.
Here’s the stunning thing. He was done with his homework for the day. I knew that because MayaWorks orders woven products from his mother, and she makes enough money to allow him the time to go to school. In the third world, most 15-year-old boys are already working full-time.
My (whiney) compassion helped make a world where that handsome kid could have a future.
Compassion makes us stronger. It helps us make friends. It leads us into adventures. It saves us from the tedium of being ridiculously rich.
When we do our part to lift others, we are lifted.
Of course I want you to come to some MayaWorks sales. If you want to know more about MayaWorks check out MayaWorks.org
I am hosting the sale at Wilson’s. Stop by and say hi to me.
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