Last week I was having a conversation with someone that I’ve known for over ten years, and I was telling him about an incident that happened at work. I explained that a colleague had come to me about a student issue, and I found myself not feeling very sympathetic about the situation. In another time and place, I might have had a different response, but I felt no sympathy at all.
Given the particular set of circumstances around the student issue, I felt far less liberal than I have in the past, and I lamented to my friend that I felt like I was getting more conservative in my old age. My friend listened as he always does, and then said that rather than becoming conservative, it sounded more like a case of compassion fatigue.
“What?” I said.
“Compassion fatigue,” he said.
“Is that a word?”
“Yes,” he said, “it’s a word,” as he smiled to himself.
We proceeded to talk about compassion fatigue as the feeling of being so exhausted from taking care of others’ needs that the ability to feel compassion diminishes.
I went home and looked it up online, and found this site: http://www.compassionfatigue.org
Now, I don’t think that I “suffer” from compassion fatigue, but I do think that teaching has become so much about care giving, that it’s very easy for me to feel exhausted by the amount of compassion that I’m expected to show on a daily basis.
Does being a strong, effective educator require an endless supply of compassion? Where do the boundaries exist around compassion? What are our own limits?