Compassion Fatigue

The media is full of horrifying stories of the suffering of people in countries at war with each other, or at war with militant religious groups who are trying to impose their rule on everyone regardless of their beliefs; of people starving because of famine, floods and other natural disasters; of people dying from the Ebola virus and other deadly multi-drug resistant diseases like malaria and tuberculosis; of children working in sweatshops from an early age or being sold or prostituted to provide money for food for the remaining family members. It would be a hard hearted person who did not feel enormous concern and compassion for these people, especially for the women and children who are often the innocent victims. There are charities and other groups who solicit donations to help these people.

Then there are the problems closer to home – our first people and their children many of whom live in third world conditions with all the accompanying problems; people black and white, young and old sleeping on the streets because of homelessness, mental illness, addiction or all three, and often because of the lack of sufficient appropriate social housing and living facilities; women and children fleeing domestic violence often with only the clothes on their backs; the families who are doing it really tough because of tragedy, retrenchment, inability to get paid employment or enough paid employment, or because of problems with gambling and drug addiction; children unable to get a proper education for a myriad of reasons. Again it would be a hard hearted person or one lacking in insight who did not feel enormous compassion for these individuals and families. There are also charities and other groups who solicit donations to help these people.

But that’s not all – there are the myriad illnesses and medical conditions from which children and adults suffer. All worthy of support and needing support for research into treatments and cures; for money to provide appropriate care and/or living facilities to make life easier and to enable them to reach their potential with the best quality of life that is possible. Charities and Foundations pick up the shortfall when the funding provided by government is insufficient but the funding from government is always insufficient and the charities and government departments are always struggling.

This only scratches the surface of the pool of needy organisations and people out there. Each of the organisations dealing with these problems needs money and the available grants etc are insufficient for the need. For most of my adult life I have felt guilty that I cannot possibly donate to all – short of being a Mother Theresa, selling all my worldly possessions and devoting my life to the needs of the world I guess the guilt will continue. However, every few years the requests that are addressed to me by mail or by name over the telephone build up to the point where I feel like moving into a bunker and ignoring them all.

Many of these requests are accompanied by two or three page letters with heart wrenching stories of the people in need. Some are accompanied by a letter and newsletters with stories of the benefits or outcomes that donations have made possible. The majority of them have liberal use of my first name scattered throughout the appeal. There is always a reply paid envelope and a donation form. The majority have ‘gifts’ included – cards and envelopes, address labels, notepads, sticky notes and in one recent case a very colourful large zippered bag. All these letters, gifts etc have a cost attached to produce and mail.

The requests always increase at times of greater need – towards winter and at Christmas time. In the last fortnight I have received nearly two dozen such requests with a combined weight of close to one kilogram.

To top it all off, I have NEVER heard of some of these charities – in one instance I had to google the initials
under which it made its request and then consult the register of charities to clarify exactly who the group was. And, I had never, ever heard of it previously.

I spell my name in two different ways – one way on the electoral register and other legal documents and a different way otherwise. I also have two addresses – a post office box and a street address. I receive mail under both spellings and to both addresses. My name is not in the telephone directory, only my husband’s. Quite obviously the electoral register is used by these groups to compile mailing lists and in many cases when donations are made, the donor lists are sold to other bodies.

I no longer feel guilty about failing to donate to all – instead I am suffering what is referred to as ‘compassion fatigue’. I have reached the point where I resent the demands that are being made willy nilly on me.

I now:
* never donate to calls by telephone. If I want to support that charity I ask for a mailing (which I am happy to accept)

* never donate to charities whose call centre people hang up in my ear when I tell them I am not interested at present

* never give money to people collecting in the street or at the door. I am happy to accept a brochure to read and consider at my leisure

* never donate to charities whose cold callers at the door are rude, or, as in a recent case where I live, bang on the doors loudly and jump around in a frenzy when the door is opened. This gave me a start, but really frightened some of the older folk in our complex.

* RTS any mail that contains a ‘gift’ with a request to be removed from their mailing list and a note that I will never donate to charities which waste donations in that way.

* RTS those mailings which I don’t wish to support with a request to be removed from the mailing list.

Do I still donate to charities? Of course, but I now support a few with larger donations rather than spread small amounts over a larger number.

Does this have any effect on the unsupported charities? One person’s action certainly won’t, but when charities complain about the lack of giving, they would do well to remember that they may be the cause. Other people may be feeling the same as I do.