Debunking 'Compassion Fatigue'

Article excerpt

Is there any truth to "compassion fatigue" - the vague notion that if people are overwhelmed by too many needy causes, they might stop giving? In the wake of the Indonesian tsunami or hurricane Katrina, nonprofit and service agency spokesmen worried that donors might be so strapped by charity to the flood victims that they would neglect their regular contributions. Sometimes called "scarcity thinking," this relies on the notion that there's a finite resource and if someone else gets it, that means you or I might not. Personally, I don't believe it.

William Arthur Ward wrote, "The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails." In my experience, when a disaster happens, we all adjust our sails. We dig a little deeper into our pockets, and we feel a little more thankful for our everyday advantages. In fact, I think we like adjusting our sails - because it makes us feel like we're really sailing hard; we're feeling the wind and living life to the fullest.

After a Thanksgiving meal, when you feel stuffed to the gills, do you stop eating altogether? Or do you pace yourself more realistically, starting with that first turkey sandwich? After the big game, when you've given it your all, do you sit on the bench for the next few competitions? After shoveling out from a big snowstorm, do you skip the next few snows? The really big challenges - whether meals, or athletic events, or jobs - show us what we can do in a pinch. Talk to people who lived through World War II, and you'll detect pride in having endured privations, laughter at their make- do inventiveness, plus a nostalgia for the emotional intensity of the time. Was it a hard time? …