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Battling Current Events Fatigue

It may hit you when you read about an ISIS beheading—or when you watch coverage of the Baltimore riots. It may slowly slide over you when you see another story about human trafficking, civil wars abroad, political gridlock in Washington, public scandal. This overwhelmed feeling, writes Cheryl Magness for The Federalist, may be closely related to compassion fatigue:

[Compassion Fatigue is] a syndrome that affects those who give extensive and ongoing care to others. Compassion fatigue occurs when one who is repeatedly called upon to tend to the physical and emotional needs of others grows weary of doing so to the extent that destructive patterns of behavior emerge in his or her own life.

… Thinking about compassion fatigue, I can’t help but wonder: is there such a thing as Current Events Fatigue? I think there is, and I think I’ve experienced it.

This fatigue seems to involve a level of dismay at tragedy, coupled with disappointment at political events and outcomes. It seems a particular temptation for conservatives, who have faced many political defeats in recent years, and Christians, who are facing the historic levels of international persecution. Yet Magness writes, “I know I can’t just stop caring. I owe it to my children and grandchildren to not stick my head in the sand. But how does one care without being completely swallowed up by it?”

Magness offers her five insights into handling current events fatigue, and they are worth reading. Her first point folds into a larger (conservative) consideration that has helped me navigate these feelings of fatigue in the past: namely, the importance of knowing your own limits.

This is twofold: knowing how much you can emotionally handle, and how much you can mentally and physically do in response to worldwide tragedies and crises.

We must consider how much we should read—how deeply we should immerse ourselves in issues that we cannot (because of time, resources, or emotional strength) confront. This may seem like a sort of forced ignorance; but I think, in a sense, it’s a healthy understanding of what we, as limited and finite human beings, can handle. There has been no other time in history when we could immerse ourselves so deeply and endlessly in the world’s problems. In times past, the limitations of knowledge and information gave us the freedom to focus on spheres in which we could make a tangible difference.

But now, there is an endless gamut of problems to confront. Constantly consuming news does not seem healthy or beneficial—indeed, it often seems incredibly counterproductive. Limiting our intake of information does not mean closing our eyes to the world—rather, it means putting strategic blinders on, so that we can focus on the things we can really help with. It is good, perhaps, to create a list of priorities—for domestic, foreign, and cultural news—that enables us to filter through the information, and find those pieces in which we can truly invest ourselves.

Additionally, in light of the global chaos we confront on a daily basis, we need an ethic of response—one that does not leave us faultless and ignorant, unaware of the needs in our world, but one that does not leave us completely overwhelmed and paralyzed, either. I have always been very passionate about human rights issues, worldwide persecution, gender issues, etc. But I’ve realized quickly that, considering my limited ability to impact such atrocities, it is easy to get burned out and exhausted by the enormity of these worldwide issues.

For this reason, I think we must start at home: concentrate on the spheres closest to us, and build out from there. There are needs in our homes, neighborhoods, churches, cities. They may not seem as enormous or horrific, but by starting here, we begin to build the communal muscle and rapport necessary to confront larger problems, to propel change outward from our local sphere. Rather than desperately seeking to confront every horror in a scattered and frenzied fashion, we can build an ethic and framework that enables us to bring about real change and hope.

As Magness puts it,

Martin Luther is said to have stated that if he knew the world was going to end tomorrow, he would still plant a tree today. I don’t know if he actually said that, but it is a message worth heeding. No one knows when the world is going to end; none of us knows what tomorrow is going to bring. So, somehow we must live in the moment, caring for our families, serving our neighbors, and making a difference in whatever small ways we can.

It is also vitally important, in handling current events fatigue, to read with respect. It seems much easier to get burned out and enraged—especially on political topics—when we cannot exercise any empathy or understanding for the person(s) involved in our news. It’s important to read the stuff that hurts, the stuff that angers, the stuff we strongly disagree with—along with the stuff that inspires, uplifts, encourages. It’s important to remember each story reflects a soul—and to be open to the nuggets of truth in every story.

We mustn’t forget to care. It is very easy to become cynical and desensitized after a while, when so constantly exposed to the news. How can we read without becoming bitter, indifferent?  Much depends on the above—remembering that each story reflects a soul(s), people who have unique hurts and opinions, people worth prizing. But it also is important that, despite the enormity of problems we confront on a daily basis, we never abandon our compassion for the “other,” those different from us. That we feel humbled by our own smallness, insignificance, neediness—as well as grateful for every blessing we’ve received. It seems easy to take these things for granted: our smallness, our blessedness. Yet a proper estimation of our own place in the world often becomes a vital ingredient to understanding and loving that world.

It is not easy to read and absorb news in this globalized, online world. It is often painful, overwhelming. But with careful consideration of our limits, our place in the world, and our estimation of those around us, it is indeed possible to consume media, and respond as we ought, without getting current events fatigue.

about the author

Gracy Olmstead is a writer and journalist located outside Washington, D.C. In addition to The American Conservative, she has written for The Washington Times, the Idaho Press Tribune, The Federalist, and Acculturated. Follow Gracy on Twitter @GracyOlmstead.

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