Author: Peter Cantelon, Executive Director
You know that feeling you get sometimes when something continues to happen that you wish wouldn’t so often that you feel like giving up?
As the parent of three now adult, formerly young children, I can relate.
There’s only so many times you can say “clean your room” or “bring your dirty dishes downstairs” before you begin to wonder if such goals are merely dreams.
Often tactics change or expectations are watered down in the face of the constant, never-ending lack of change.
When it comes to the social sector, we can often experience the same thing. We look out into the world, either in its entirety or our local version of it, and we look to be catalysts of change. We seek to reduce the effects of climate change, we leverage our money, time and other resources to reduce poverty, or remove barriers that have been erected in front of other people (or ourselves) and we continue to do this day after day, year after year, decade after decade.
Sometimes we begin to feel a little like that parent who is on the verge of giving up. There is a name for such a state – compassion fatigue.
The name itself is guilt inducing. After all, we ask ourselves, what kind of monster am I that I am losing my compassion for those who have little and suffer the most?
The reality is it has less to do with loss of compassion and more to do with a sense that we are not making a difference no matter what we do, or worse still, our efforts are too small to make a difference so why bother?
I’m here to tell you that this is an understandable feeling. I’m also here to tell you not to give up. Compassion, whatever its form, always makes a difference. Always.
They key to understanding this is asking ourselves how we measure our impact. What are you hoping to see when you give of you resources to make a difference?
Climate change is a good example to use here. Making a measurable, net positive difference in climate change will not happen without all of us contributing to one degree or another and that measurable change will likely not be seen in our lifetime.
This is not meant to be bleak but to lend perspective. Some problems are of a scale that change will occur slowly over long periods of time but, and here’s the key, it will occur if people make the effort.
Lives can be like that too. Sometimes change can happen very quickly – a scholarship can change a life. But sometimes, quite often, change occurs over generations.
Hundreds of years of systemic violence and racism require commitment over the long-term and time to shift back to equilibrium and health. Generations even. But with commitment and determination grounded in compassion change will happen.
In the times when you might understandably slip into compassion fatigue please know and remind yourself that you are making a difference in ways you cannot necessarily see. The recipients of your hope may never know who gave to them but they will know it was given and gratefully received.