Alain de Botton and Too Many Cares


I just listened to a great interview with Alain de Botton on Triple J’s Hack program.

No matter what your opinion is on this divisive character (and that’s not something I’ll get into here – suffice to say, I find him fascinating), you can’t deny he always has something thought-provoking to say.

Today’s topic was “the news”.

Amongst many intriguing ideas, the bit the really made my tired Mummy Ears prick up was when he talked about “compassion fatigue”. He postulated that the reason we increasingly find it difficult to summon up much empathy or sadness when faced with news of tragedy, war and despair is because, for most of the human journey, we haven’t had to.

In today’s Global Village, we are on a daily basis confronted with news from every corner of the globe, much of it at best sombre and troubling; at worst horrific. This is a very new phenomenon. For most of human evolution we’ve only been cognisant of the news of our tribe, our village, perhaps our kingdom if we were in a position that required notification of this news. We cared about our family, our friends, maybe our king or queen. And that was about it.

Today, we’re expected to care about wars in places we’ve only just heard of; about earthquakes in far-flung locales that newsreaders struggle to pronounce.

Are we monsters if, sometimes, we turn off the news and pick up a good book instead?

I get the temptation to turn away. I do it myself.

I’ve always, to paraphrase a family member, “had the weight of the world on my shoulders”. This makes me a very dreary person to be around, much of the time. Thankfully, for those who have to be around me on a daily basis, I have my writing. This is, often, the only way I can stop myself from descending into darkness. I write about it – vast tracts I’ll never show anyone else, let alone publish. I write my feelings out and away and I close the notebook or my computer and I feel a bit better.

And then there’s Tiger. Tiger fills me with hope and joy and the knowledge that while much of human life is suffering, there is also so much brightness to be found, in a ladybug, in a leaf, in a playground slide, in one of her golden smiles.

I write to stay positive, for her. But I’ll also never protect her from the dark spots in life. I want her to know that all of human life is not joy. Because I want her to care. I want her to want to help.

I never want her to have “compassion fatigue”.