Thursday, June 03, 2004

Compassion Fatigue 

by Kristine
A little blip in the radio news caught my attention today. Seems there is renewed fighting in Congo. A year ago, I would have sighed, tried to remember where Congo is, remembered (dimly) little bits of history from a long ago reading of _King Leopold's Ghost_, and wondered (idly) whether Africa could ever be peaceful and prosperous.

Now it's different. For the last little while, we've had a lovely woman named Bibiane living with us. Her parents were killed the last time there was violence in Congo (violence serious enough to rate coverage in the U.S. media, that is). Her mother was Rwandan, her father was a government minister. She was a journalist, and the combination of mixed-ethnic parentage, a prominent family, and her profession made her a high-profile target. She packed a small bag, thinking she would go away for a month and return to her husband and daughters (then 5 and 11) when the "little uprising" had been put down. Of course, the uprising was not put down, the rebels became the new government, and she hasn't seen her family for more than 3 years.

So today, when I heard that there was trouble in Congo, I listened carefully to find out where; I hurried in to see if Bibiane had been able to talk to her family, if they were safe. I prayed with her for their safety. In short, I cared. It occurs to me (more forcefully than usual)that I *should* have cared before, that somehow, I have to learn to care broadly for people beyond my acquaintance, that just being vaguely and passingly sad for the tragedies I hear about every day is an inadequately Christian response. But *how* should I care? What should that caring look like? I can't care about the whole world in the way that I care about my children, or even the way that I care about my cousins or the members of my ward. Can the response King Benjamin suggests be expanded to cover this situation--can I say "I would care more if I had a deeper well of compassion, but I don't give (right now) because I don't have anything meaningful to give"? How does one go about increasing one's resources of compassion, especially compassion in the abstract or from a distance?
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