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Offbeat 26 June 2015

The Pope’s Encyclical on man and his environment has come out. It’s worth a read. It asks us, in simple English, to look beyond science and economics in approaching all the perils of sustainability, the environment and climate change.

He says we need to consider the thing emotionally, in light of personal ethics as well. It’s well reasoned, if you have a component of compassion to your soul.
The Encyclical is just one of the causes for concern and compassion that have been put in my path this week. The value of a couple of hundred thousand African lives, and the question of a dictator’s complicity and responsibility was one of the things I am compelled to think about.
Then the Charleston shooting became a hot topic. Suddenly the Sudan genocide fell off the radar. If you start doing maths at this point, and find yourself incredulous and despairing, award yourself a gold star.
Other things on my radar included cruelty to animals, LGBT issues in the form of rainbow coloured jars, cruel expectations of body images, poaching, GMOs, climate change, the fact that most young Namibians have little to no hope of owning homes, orphans and vulnerable children, US gun control, Namibian racism, single mothers, the sixth extinction, bee colony collapse disorder, feminist issues, eating dogs in China, illegal harvesting of leadwood trees, drought, and children dying of starvation.
It gets exhausting after a while. I tread emotional water but feel that I am being swept away by the tsunami of needs. Je suis not a cause or an issue. Actually, je suis me, at least I should be, most of the time. I have to draw a line, somewhere, but I am struggling to find a way.
Judging by the existence of the concept of compassion fatigue, the cup of concern is not bottomless. Only so much giving is possible. In other words, there must be an economy to altruism, based on the transaction between the giver and the taker.
Children who arrive on social media will be more challenged, as they do not have the ability to look away. Their repeated exposure will lead to compassion fatigue at an earlier age. Where this probably leads is that they will care less at an earlier age, and that will mean they will be less likely to want to make an impact in later ages, when they have the resources. In other words, it seems likely that the future will be a less caring place.
This leads me to the idea that in order to avoid the dystopian potential of the future, approaches to compassion require education. Children need to learn that compassion is needed, but only at certain points where it can make a difference. Certain types of appeals to compassion will need to be discarded. It’s an ugly thought, but it feels necessary.
The Charleston shootings are a case in point. They happened in a distant land,, on the basis of racism. Nothing can be done locally, to prevent the spread of such incidents, but it is possible to open up on our own approaches to racism. In other words, the learning should be that kids should not get swept up in the incident, the issues surrounding US gun control, US racism and the Confederate flag, but rather examine their own approaches to racism and their local impact.
The US is a large producer of news, and that flow of stories often dominates media. The Charleston shooting was in a sense ‘compassion porn’, a rather nasty form of entertainment, a kissing cousin to poverty porn. Because of the dominance, needs that are closer to home may be ignored. Children should understand that although a story like Charleston is big, it does not detract from local issues.
Children also need to understand that there are people who are driven by issues, center their lives on their concerns. They do not need to adopt other people’s issues to be friends. They can be themselves, and find their own points to make meaningful differences.
At the end of the day, in order to preserve compassion, we need to understand that, in truth, charity really should begin at home.

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