America has a compassion fatigue problem. Here’s how we can fix it.

Posted 1/7/22

The past year and a half has most of us feeling numb, helpless, and burned out on bad news. Elaine Parke’s Habits of Unity framework...

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America has a compassion fatigue problem. Here’s how we can fix it.

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Over the past year and a half we’ve seen over 700,000 Americans die from COVID, faced a bitterly controversial election, and endured massive social upheaval. It’s a lot of pain and suffering. And yet, we seem to be numb to it all. Headlines and images that might have once shocked us barely elicit a “Hmmm, that’s too bad.”

Elaine Parke says we’re experiencing a type of compassion fatigue on a national scale—and that needs to change right now.

“I get that caring about others can be painful,” says Parke, author of "The Habits of Unity: 12 Months to a Stronger America…one citizen at a time" (www.12habits4allofus.org). “But caring is what makes us human. And it’s in our humanity that we’ll find the powerful sense of connection that fuels us to join with others to solve the very real problems we face.”

Here’s the thing: the only way things will get better is for each of us to get intentional about becoming the kind of person we want to be. Rather than assuming others will take action, we need to hold ourselves accountable and work on developing thoughts and practices that benefit us, our communities, and our country.

That’s why Parke created the framework laid out in her book: she wants us to reconnect with our humanity and reunify America around the ideals of cooperation, connection, and civility. It’s a system meant to help us push the reset button on our attitudes and alleviate that numb, exhausted feeling that keeps us from acting to make the world better.

Parke thinks of The Habits of Unity as a powerful form of “Mental Nutrition.”

“We’ve all heard that we are what we eat, but I say we are the messages we consistently consume,” says Parke. “We’re personalizing the negative, almost apocalyptic news we hear 24/7. No wonder we’ve become depressed, stressed, and disengaged. No wonder we feel helpless. It’s time we moved to a mental diet that nourishes and encourages.”

With her simple, doable framework for uplifting ourselves, boosting our mental health, and practicing unity, Parke hopes to get everyone focused on the same branded behavior each month. The idea is that the sheer force of all that concentrated positive energy sparks a unity revolution that rises from the ground up and sweeps the nation.

Yet, until that happens, we can leverage the power of The Habits of Unity on a personal level by absorbing the book’s 365 “one-magic-minute-a-day” motivationals to form one good habit per month:

January: Help others,
February: You count,
March: Resolve conflicts,
April: Take care of our environment,
May: Be grateful,
June: Reach higher,
July: Become involved,
August: Know Who you are,
September: Do your best,
October: Be patient and listen,
November: Show a positive attitude,
December: Celebrate vommunity, family, and friends.

Those who’ve tried it say the plan is easy to put into practice. It feels good, so you’ll want to keep doing it. And you’ll be surprised by how quickly compassion fatigue shifts toward empowered engagement.

“Big, impactful change happens because ordinary people do what they can, when they can,” Parke says. “We can post an affirming message on social media instead of doom scrolling or worse, publicly complaining. We can donate a few canned goods instead of just driving by the food pantry. We can call a friend who is struggling and encourage them.

“If enough of us make these seemingly small but truly powerful changes,” she adds, “together we can shift momentum away from disengagement, and toward lifting one another up.”

Elaine Parke, MBA, CS, CM, NSA, is the author of The Habits of Unity: 12 Months to a Stronger America…one citizen at a time. For 30 years, her scalable and evidence-driven 12 habits of social unity model has transformed several million community citizens and youth across the USA’s Midwest and in Rwanda, helping them feel more caring and connected to one another. In 1993, her monthly branded and colorful habit-forming model was deemed a “Social Invention” by the London Institute for Social Inventions.

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