by Peter DeWit
We were almost at the makeshift refugee camp when a homeless man asked us for some coffee and food. We were happy to oblige him, but when he saw the new shoes in my bag, he got a little greedy. “Please, can I have those shoes too,” he asked?
I got short with him, “They are not for you, they are for someone else.”
“But I need new shoes,” he begged.
I got a little more firm, “These are for someone else, not you!”
As we walked away, one of the volunteers quipped, “I’ve never seen you get so perturbed like that before with a homeless person. What happened to the gentle Peter?”
And she was right, I had little empathy left in my ‘compassion tank.’ Instead of treating this man with dignity, I wrongly interpreted him as a greedy homeless man. Boy, did I fall short of a compassionate response.
These two words sometimes join together to describe what we are feeling on the inside. Our compassion for others gets pushed to its limits. The final result of that is hopelessness and cynicism. It feels like nothing we do matters. We not only have less energy, less empathy, and less desire for engagement, we are less able to be compassionate. Our compassion is fatigued.
All of us are vulnerable to experiencing compassion fatigue, but those on the frontlines of human despair, exposed repeatedly to the trauma of others are most susceptible. My guess is it’s happened to you, at least to a degree, too. And we shouldn’t feel guilty about it. On the positive side it shows what a kind, caring and compassionate person you are. On the other hand it reveals that you may need to change your focus for a bit and better care for yourself. An empty cup gives no one refreshing.
So besides taking a needed break, how do we reinvigorate our compassion? The first thing that comes to my mind is to recognize our fatigue, explore those feelings, what has changed inside of you?. Then maybe share those emotions with someone who’s been there and can give us something for our soul. Besides that crucial advice, self care involves various ways to improve our emotional, physical and even spiritual state. Maybe we need to look at how we sleep, eat, or spend our spare time. It could be that we need to enjoy a walk in nature, read a book, or play board games with friends. There are many avenues and ways that can help us to somehow find our balance and desire to help others. Once again we can experience the following two words:
These two words really go together and they can be put together again in your life. It doesn’t have to be rushed either, but think of how you will soon have more energy and empathy to spread around. You’ll be catching smiles and hearing appreciation from those you share with. And when you do find yourself volunteering once again, the wonderful joy and meaning of giving will be reinvigorated in you. That’s compassion reinvigorated!