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Posts Tagged ‘Tear Fund’

How much is too much?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

By William Zhang

Have you ever turned on the six o’clock news, only to tune out a few minutes later, thinking “oh, not again… another gloomy story about disaster and destruction”? If so, you’ve experienced compassion fatigue.

hurricane-tvCompassion fatigue occurs when we get tired of seeing images of suffering in the news and TV, images like the ‘millions left homeless after their homes were destroyed’ or the ‘child who now has to walk for two hours a day just to get clean drinking water’. Heartbreaking stuff isn’t it? Yet, as we see more and more of these images on TV and the news, they start to lose their impact on us.

Many people, and some aid agencies, are worried that the world may experience mass compassion fatigue following the cyclone in Myanmar and earthquake in China. Before we look into the effects of this, it’s important to ask, why exactly does it occur? Compassion overdose?

As humans, we can only tolerate so many stories about pain and suffering before we experience compassion fatigue and tune out. We aren’t capable of constantly feeling pity, sadness or empathy. Compassion fatigue is like our body’s defence mechanism to cope with a ‘compassion overload’.

We develop a resistance to these stories of suffering. We get so used to seeing them we actually DON’T see them anymore. We become less likely to react or respond to them so that we don’t become too emotionally drained.

Its too much!!un-helicopter
As these stories lose their impact on us, we become less likely to respond by giving or donating to charities and relief funds. The amount of humanitarian relief organisations like the Red Cross, Tear Fund or Oxfam, are able to provide declines as a result. Humanitarian relief is needed because many countries don’t have enough resources themselves to respond to emergencies and strife.

A striking example of world-wide compassion fatigue occurred in 2004 and 2005. Within the period of a year, the world was forced to deal with the Boxing Day tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquake in Pakistan; three huge natural disasters which led to a compassion overload. As a result, “we saw a tremendous outpouring of support for the tsunami and less support for the emergencies which followed”. (Eileen Burke, Save the Children)

What (or who) is to blame?
Media coverage of poverty, suffering or natural disasters hugely influences society. They direct our attention to important events, conflicts and disasters, but they can also swamp us with information and images to the point where we switch off.

darfurmarthaObviously, a lack of media coverage isn’t too good. The media has been criticised for not devoting enough attention to the genocide in Darfur for example, so people knew very little about the situation or the amount of aid and relief needed. According to a Tyndall Report (which monitors the news in the US), in 2004 the Darfur genocide received only 18 minutes of coverage on ABC News, 5 minutes on NBC and 3 minutes on CBS. That’s the total for the entire year! In contrast, Martha Stewart (celebrity author, editor and homemaker) received 130 minutes of news coverage.

However, too much coverage can also be equally as devastating. Media saturation of images and stories about suffering and destruction is a major cause of compassion fatigue.

It’s a delicate balance
The gap between too little and too much media coverage is a very thin line, with ignorance on one side and compassion fatigue on the other. Either way, if the fine balance between the two isn’t kept, people could suffer as a result.

Control of this delicate balance is in the hands of the world’s media corporations. Pretty important job huh? Should we actually trust a few media companies for this crucial role though? Sure, they have a role to play, but in reality, we should be taking the initiative ourselves. So, the next time you see that story on TV about the relief efforts in Myanmar, don’t switch off. Just think, you might have the choice not to see images of such tragedies, but for the people involved, these images reflect their everyday reality.

Check out the Take Action section for other things you can do to fight compassion fatigue.


TAKE ACTION!

4 quick steps to combat compassion fatigue:

  • For a breath of fresh air and a new perspective on things, check out one of many alternative news sources like the ones mentioned in the Learn More section.
  • Chat with your friends about an important issue that’s been on the news and find out what they think.
  • Get involved! Schools often have Amnesty International groups, or you could volunteer to help collect donations for a relief fund. You’ll become informed about the issue, help out in supporting it, and have fun at the same time.
  • If you do want to donate money, do your research and choose an organisation whose work you really want to support.

LEARN MORE

Go to the Council for International Development for details on how you can help in disasters and emergencies www.cid.org.nz
Check out these alternative news sources. www.oneworld.net, www.globalissues.org, www.guerrillanews.com, www.indymedia.org.nz

    This article was originally published in the Global Focus pages of Tearaway Magazine.