Friday, July 17, 2009


I've been thinking of writing a blog for awhile for Compassion but have never gotten around to it. Now Chris wrote a similar one, so I don't have to.

But he touches on something I've been noticing in myself.

We've had a temp processing photos for us lately. We receive huge numbers of photos from the field, and each one needs to be loaded into a database and tagged with a bunch of info. It's kind of the perpetual headache, getting it all done, so daunting is the task.

I saw the temp in the break room one day and asked her how it was going. She said it was good, she was liking it, but that some days she just has to stand up and walk away from it. I assumed she meant the work was tedious. I responded, "Yeah, sometimes your eyes do start to cross looking at so many files!"

She said, "No, because the pictures are so hard to look at."

What I considered tedium, she had a hard time looking at without crying. What has happened to me?

Later that same day, my sister dropped by Compassion for the first time for a tour. I took her around to all the tour spots and pictures. Looking at the small "model" poverty home, she seemed surprised how many people might live in that small home. It took me off guard; I took it for granted.

Then we moved on to a big picture wall, on which there is a picture of a typical neighborhood in Manila, Philippines. The homes are stacked one on top another like a playing-card house, and are just as precarious. The alleys are narrow where children crouch to bathe. The water's edge on which their card homes are perched is littered with the detritus of plastic bags and apathy.

I look at this every day. This is normal to me. It doesn't phase me.

But Tara looked at it and seemed horrified. What my eyes brushed over unaffected, hers set on and stuck.

What has happened to me? Some amount of self-protection is necessary in my job. I couldn't get much work done blathering in my cube all day. Each day, I get a face full of poverty and read stories that make grown men cry. But will my unaffectedness eventually lead to apathy? Like the people who live in Manila's card houses who are used to what makes others shudder and don't even try to get out anymore?


Jon The Hart said...

You can't be continually shocked by everyday things. What's more you'd be completely ineffective, as you said, if you were moved to tears by the things you see each day. Imagine a doctor in the ER being emotionally overwhelmed by the tragic circumstances he encountered each day. You are involved in fixing a problem, and just like a doctor the work is perpetual and requires a rational response to what you face.

You are not jaded for becoming desensitized, that is natural and required to do your work. What would make you jaded is if you decided that the work was not worth doing, that there was no hope. If you took no joy in the good that Compassion has brought to the lives of the 1 million children being sponsored, then you might be jaded. But you believe in your organization and in the work you're doing, so how could you be jaded?

People that tie their actions closely to their emotions can't achieve what you have, they bounce from cause to cause and whim to whim without being very effective at bringing about change. You've immersed yourself in a cause and focused your efforts, and no amount of emotional response can equal that.

sarahbri said...

Thank you Jon. Those are exactly the thoughts that were bouncing around in my head, incoherently. Amber, I totally agree. I think you are one of the least jaded people I know. A jaded person does not write "Hope Lives", or get excited to meet the child she sponsors in India, or even sponsor a child. Plus, I usually consider that if you're aware of or worried about becoming a certain thing (like jaded, or prideful, or anything else), you probably aren't becoming that. Those things usually get you by surprise.