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Comfortably Numb

Have you ever repeated a word over and over in your head so many times that it eventually loses its meaning and starts to sound like nonsense? It happened to me the other day with the word “lemon.”

I said lemon so many times that it started to sound like a word I made up. Or like a word from a foreign language. After a while, the word “lemon” was meaningless — it no longer represented a tangy, yellow fruit. It was just a funny sounding nonsense word running through my head.

I think Satan likes to use a similar technique to get us to stop caring about the hurting people of the world.

Whenever we make an emotional connection to someone in need, we are motivated to act. So by getting us to feel disconnected [3] from a certain group of hurting people, he gets us to stop acting on behalf of those who need help. One of the ways he does this is through what’s been called “compassion burnout” or “compassion fatigue.”

When a major crisis happens, the news media often reports it so quickly and intensely that for a time, it’s pretty much impossible to get away from it.

Remember watching TV the week after September 11, 2001? No matter where I looked, I couldn’t escape the horrific images. Those first few days, I couldn’t watch the news without crying. But after a while, I had heard the same stories reported so many times that they no longer affected me the way they did at first. I got used to the horror. I got numb.

Were any of you in this same boat with me? Maybe for you it was the coverage from Hurricane Katrina. Or the Asian tsumani. Or the earthquake in China. Or the Global Food Crisis. The list seems endless, doesn’t it?

This article, recently posted on urbana.org, addesses the idea of compassion burnout.

What do you do when you’ve heard something so many times that you get fatigued … you’re tired of helping, tired of giving, tired of caring?

How do you keep from getting overwhelmed with the desperate needs of the poor or numb to their pleas for help? How do you not get discouraged by the never-ending necessity for compassion?

The article includes several good suggestions for preventing burnout.

But what I’d love to know is how you deal with this on a personal level. Are there things we can do in bringing the needs of the poor to your attention that will help create the emotional connection and keep our stories from getting stale?

UPDATE: Aug. 25, 2011 – The article is no longer available on urbana.org.