Compassion fatigue and distancing

[Vanisha Sukdeo] Wednesday, April 22, 2020

As Peer and Priya’s blog allows for us to reflect on the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on our daily lives, I return to a topic I wrote about in my first book published in 2018. I wrote about compassion fatigue which is the notion explored by David Cameron that there is a finite amount of compassion and we can run out of it once that limit is reached. How does this relate to covid-19? Did we care enough when those infected and dying by the virus lived on another continent? Did we only care when the virus crossed the border into our own country?

Who receives compassion and who does not? Seniors and those with underlying conditions are dying at a higher rate than the general population. What about those who work “essential” jobs such as at a grocery store or driving a transit bus. Those who are usually forgotten and ignored have now come to be hailed as heroes. A moniker that was usually reserved for Doctors.

We currently see corporations like Canada Goose stepping up to make hospital gowns for free. We also see distilleries switching their production from alcohol to making hand sanitizer. Citizens, corporations and governments are coming together to unleash positive acts for the purpose of defeating covid-19. I know many are hopeful that society will fundamentally change for the better once the pandemic is over. Who defines what constitutes “better”?

Have you run out of compassion? Compassion is often reserved for those closest to us. From sympathy to empathy onwards towards wanting to alleviate the pain of those suffering. How much compassion is enough? How much is too little?

Using the concept of distancing I explore the notion that we should not simply wait until the virus and future pandemics hit Canadian shores to care. We should care about emergencies in any part of the world, not simply out of compassion but out of enlightened self-interest. After SARS and MERS which only hit parts of the world it is only until this pandemic that we see the entire world being impacted in this way in modern times. I do think that the Canadian government at all levels are doing an amazing job caring and protecting Canadian citizens and those who live in Canada. We will see what version of society emerges after the pandemic ends. I am hopeful (and perhaps naïve) to think that this sense of unity among Canadians will persist in the future. 

Vanisha Sukdeo | Toronto | April 22, 2020

Published by pzumbansen

law professor.

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