Why We’ve Stopped Caring and How We Can Start Again

Taher MV

(Originally published on Mar 25, 2021)

Disclaimer: BridgeUSA acquired The Acceptance Project (TAP) in April 2022 as part of its initiative to engage high school students in constructive discussion. This blog post was previously written by Taher MV to highlight compassion fatigue among young people.

Compassion Fatigue has turned teens away from news, but they are finding ways to tune in again.

It is hard to sincerely care about the plethora of problems facing the country right now. Whether it is a mass shooting in California or an economic catastrophe in Haiti, people are constantly being bombarded with the updated calamities of the world.

What is often mistaken as apathy or woeful ignorance is something else entirely; compassion fatigue. The continuous exposure to negative media and problems with our world has stripped many of their humanity and ability to empathize. Compassion fatigue is very similar to burnout. It’s the feeling of emotional or physical exhaustion with your surroundings leading to the inability to empathize with others or feel compassion for them.

Originally, compassion fatigue was most associated with first responders and people who assist victims of trauma on daily basis. Up to 86% of Urgent Care nurses showed signs of compassion fatigue, often

causing a disconnect between patients and caregivers, hindering their ability to connect and provide adequate care to their patients.

However, recent research has proved that compassion fatigue is no longer unique to front-line workers. Its new demographic: teens. Because of the highly impressionable mind of teens and the growing reach of negative journalism, compassion fatigue has become more widespread in recent years. Social media and modern news outlets have allowed for continuous feeds filled with tragedy and hardship around the world. This constant intake of negative information takes a severe toll on the mind and its ability to empathize with those afflicted.

Single motherhood rates are at an all-time high and coupled with the fact that around 50% of marriages end in divorce, the mental strain on young minds is high. The average college debt is over $30,000 and unemployment for teens and millennials is only rising.

The hard truth is that most of the world’s calamities or disasters are just not a priority for American students. It is not a matter of them being cold and heartless, but as high schoolers, they have to deal with their own life troubles before they move on to worrying about the rest of the world.

With compassion fatigue on the rise, the major problems we face don’t seem to be going away. Thankfully, there is a solution to the emotional burnout many of us feel. Staying involved and educated about important current events without investing yourself too much is key in remaining empathic and informed.

Isolation and helplessness are key factors of compassion fatigue and compound the negative effects. Discussion and opportunities to share your feelings are some of the most vital preventative measures you can take in making sure you remain grounded and healthy.

Getting students involved in current events and the news is a process. It requires a societal effort to adapt the information to the lives of a teen. The solution to getting students more informed is not to guilt them or shove the information down their throats. It is to simply show them that their opinion matters, and that their voice no matter how small can create a change.

Jessica Carpenter

In 2022, we are living through one of the most polarizing times in modern American history. With the COVID-19 pandemic at the center of many debates, followed by topics of education, voting, climate change, and human rights, getting the public anywhere close to agreeing on something seems impossible. This division is further reflected on a community level through our relationships, classrooms and workplaces. 

Today, the only guidance for how to address these differences is what we see displayed by our leaders. The outline, so far, has been villainization, blaming, and divisive rhetoric, which has only exacerbated the problem. 

Born in a century characterized by influential figures, voices and changemakers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could be called one of the greatest leaders in American history. His contributions to American society emboldened millions in the call for equality and welcomed long overdue societal change that we are still perfecting today. 

Despite many odds, MLK Jr. led one of the most successful movements for racial justice in American history. He did this through promotion of empathy, prospect and constructive engagement. Dr. King’s wave of peaceful protests and powerful words during the Civil Rights Movement drafted an outline for future leaders, offering examples for rallying people behind shared values and creating unity. Although his teachings remain static in history, we find that they are still applicable today. 

Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.”

In the face of current dissent, violence and exclusion have once again become the default response. In return, the public has been led to believe that it is through these means we must choose which conversations, which political party, which issues and solutions prevail. As long as the current approach remains unchallenged, what solutions are found in its wake will be tarnished by a foundation of baleful motivations. Remedying this starts with constructive engagement. 

Change today should come from constructive disagreement over division, and empathy over exclusion. MLK Jr. was battling centuries of racism and intolerance when he led the March on Washington. But, without his dedication to engaging those who disagreed with him, the civil rights movement wouldn’t have been as successful as it was. And it is through similar means that we will achieve a sound foundation to create change.

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

A common misconception for addressing disagreements today is to change minds and force agreement. We see this in Congress when bipartisan consensus is replaced with partisan majorities after a common solution hasn’t been found. What our current leaders should understand is that motivating those around us doesn’t start with everyone being in full agreement, but instead with having a shared goal. 

Many debates today are rung through partisan divides, and result in inaction from both sides because we believe we’re working toward different goals. In fact, the reality is much different when you actually sit down for a conversation. According to The Atlantic, Americans aren’t as extreme as they believe each other to be, and may even be able to agree on a number of the same problems. Instead of forcing consensus, we should take this opportunity of nuance to mold a better path to address disagreement.

We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.”

Now one of his most recited quotes, this message of working together is one of the most unfathomable. Between President Joe Biden’s speeches shunning Republican lawmakers on voting reform, and turning vaccinated against unvaccinated on COVID-19, to cheers of “Let’s Go Brandon” echoed by lawmakers and public figures, to political commentators using polarizing rhetoric to stir audiences every night, animosity toward those who think differently than us has reached a new high.

Over the last few years, we have forgotten that America was built on diversity of opinion and background. It was once the backbone of our greatest advancements in technology, social and economic justice, and democracy. MLK Jr. recognized this sentiment, and utilized it at the core of his movement. As influential figures in this new age of polarization, our leaders should be following that example, and working to bring people back together.

Let’s build bridges, not walls.

The final lesson that we can borrow from history is that of building bridges. Many organizations today are working to recreate these bridges through having constructive dialogue in their communities. BridgeUSA is one of these organizations leading positive change on college campuses around the nation. Through their work, thousands of students have had discussions across the aisle and learned to utilize empathy and constructive engagement to address dissent and become better leaders on campus.

Until this same initiative is echoed by our political leaders, we will continue to fall behind in addressing pressing issues impacting our country. Incorporating the intent to work across the aisle and incorporate ideas from different perspectives ultimately creates better solutions all around and is more reflective of what our country needs. Seldom are these solutions found through obstructing those in opposition. 

The Civil Rights Movement challenged the public to reflect on their views and break barriers that kept society divided. MLK Jr. welcomed opposition in his endeavors, and strived for improvement through that. His practices of empathy, prospect and constructive engagement inspired change on a massive front, and created a movement carried by individuals who shared these ideals and were driven by their shared goal for a better future. These teachings may lend a hand in shaping the next steps for our country today, and can serve as a guide for leadership and disagreement in our time of division.