Compassion burnout is modern malady

Dennis DalmanColumn, Sartell – St. Stephen, St. JosephLeave a Comment

Did you ever feel as if you are suffocating from compassion burnout?

There is too much suffering in the world, and there is nothing – or not much of anything – that any individual, including me, can do about it. Oh, sure, when I’m able to, I contribute some money to this or that good cause. It’s better than doing nothing at all. Still, it seems like the most pathetic “drop in a bucket” compared to the rampant cruelties ravaging this planet.

It’s hard to avoid the faces of those slum children on TV ads as they stare imploringly with big sad eyes, begging for help.

Then there’s that TV ad about abused animals – the one that features Sarah McLachlan singing some sad song about angels. It’s just too much for me. I mute or turn the channel every time.

Seeing misery on TV is bad enough; computer emails are even worse. I used to open all of them. I’ve always thought one of my responsibilities, especially as a reporter/columnist, is to become aware of the world – bad things and good.

However, those email pitches have made me aware of far too many problems all at once: species on the verge of extinction, new forms of pollution causing health problems, kids turned into sadistic rebel soldiers in an African country, childhood prostitution rings, the kidnapping of people into forced labor, people dying without health insurance, torturous rampages against civilians in hell-holes like Syria . . . well, as you know, the list goes on and on. Never ending.

Many emails have a “vote” button that one can click to register one’s outrage. I feel ridiculous clicking that button from the warmth and comfort of my home. I could spend hours clicking those “vote” buttons, all day long, and the misery emails would keep coming.

Lately, I’m leery about opening any emails.

What finally did it for me was a video. The email tag line said something about “Help stop slaughter of dogs in China.” I opened it and then clicked on the video. To this day, my skin crawls and anxiety invades me when I see those blood-curdling images in my mind. I cannot shake them. A long assembly line of cats and dogs crammed together in wire cages. The creatures, paralyzed by fear, being forced from the cages by being poked with sharp sticks. Workers clubbing them to death (or half to death). More workers slicing the animals around their necks and literally ripping the skins from their bodies. Many of the animals are still twitching when thrown on the carcass pile. That’s the point where, feeling I was about to faint from outrage and horror, I stopped watching. Those skins, by the way, are used in China and exported elsewhere to make fuzzy “frills” on clothing and “cuddly” toys.

I’ve written letters and sent email comments, as suggested on that email, to register my disgust, but I kept thinking, as I wrote, “What’s the use?” It’s hard not to succumb to a deep feeling of personal futility about such vast pain and suffering. I admire some millionaires, like those good-deed movie stars and benevolent corporate captains, who can make major dents against such cruelties.

They say every little bit helps. I try to keep that hope alive as I feel compassion burnout coming on, as I keep hitting delete, delete, delete. Just a few minutes ago, I deleted an email about the slaughter of baby seals in Canada and one about starvation in Sudan.

When I begin to feel hopeless about all that misery, a humane-society saying comes to mind like a pop-up box: “Helping one animal (or child) won’t change the world, but it will change the world for that one child (or animal).”

It’s a small consolation. But a good one.

Author: Dennis Dalman

Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.

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