Stephen Grant

Compassion Fatigue

I am currently battling a tsunami of compassion fatigue. Not mine – yours.

If you’re unsure what compassion fatigue is, it’s the illness accompanying the lack of empathy arising from the constant tugging of our heartstrings by work, friends, newspapers, television, and strangers who are leaning on us to ‘do the right thing’. It’s not a modern phenomenon.

It was first diagnosed in 1950’s nurses who started to experience depression-like symptoms as a result of their constant need to care. In my experience, all nurses suffer from this a bit. Show me an experienced nurse who is constantly happy and ebullient and I’ll show you a nurse who is probably crap at her job.

In fact I used to date a nurse and made that rookie mistake of thinking she would be sympathetic when I became unwell. My man-flu was laughed off immediately and when I complained about this, she simply chucked me out of her bed. Again, another skill nurses have completely nailed.

We’ve all had a bit of this. When we see the standard shopping-centre chugger – the ‘charity mugger’ who grabs his clipboard nearly as tightly as your eye-contact, our hearts sink. Good people wonder what genuinely worthy cause they are attempting to help. And those good people will feel miserable if they don’t cough up. It’s effectively a tax on being kind.

However, let me tell you, things are no easier when you cross over to the other side. My achingly sweet nephew was recently diagnosed with Tetrasomy-18, a chromosomal disorder that will leave him with a variety of challenging life-long disabilities, and spurred by this, I decided to go that step beyond simple donation (the super-quick-fix route to altruism) and organise an event to help raise money for Scope. I felt this would apply my skills and also help maximise the money I could raise. Go me.

So, using my contacts both in the world of promotion and comedy, I have organised a large, really high quality night of comedy at Hurstpierpoint Village Hall on Sunday May 4th – the night before a bank holiday, so hopefully a great way of packing the numbers in. Everyone, including all the comedians are giving their time for free – and for a £10 ticket (a great price for a commercial, non charity night), I thought, “this will be a sinch”.

Silly, silly me. I have never worked so hard in trying my hardest to drum up interest and push tickets. Friends have been fantastic – buying tickets immediately – but beyond that, the general public are almost suspicious. I’ve learnt quickly to omit “It’s for a good cause” from my sales pitch.

Think about it – it’s a lot easier to ask people to come out for a terrible cause. “Fancy a meal out full of saturated fat and MSG”? Lovely. “Up for a night of solid drinking followed by illness, possible arrest and even poor quality intercourse?” Cannot wait.

And those people who are positively swayed by a worthy charity politely point out that their dollar is being courted by other equally worthy charities. You forget the fact that charities have to compete with each other. Maybe in dark alleyways, away from the gaze of the public, the NSPCC and RSPCA throw angry punches between gnarled insults. “Children!” “Puppies!”. It’s a horrid thought but barbed analogies aside, it’s not enough to be worthy. You have to be most worthy.

Donating isn’t a cop-out, it’s the stress-free choice in every scenario. The popular charity website ‘Just Giving’ is probably called that so people are reassured they won’t be more involved. I imagine the website was originally called “”.

I worry that the man hours I’ve spent so far organising and pushing this event, if redirected into my normal job and donating the money I earnt to charity instead, would probably exceed any monies raised through our charity comedy night. Please prove me wrong and come along; it’ll be fun, even if that won’t be evident on my compassion-fatigue-addled face.