Compassion fatigue

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By SALEM NASSER*

The revolt may be tiring too, but I won't part with it. I won't know how to forget, I won't even know how to forgive

A friend, while we were discussing the “Tears of the Earth” exhibition, remembered having encountered, when working with refugees, the concept of “compassion fatigue”. The expression is perfect to name what so many of us feel these days.

How many of us have said that we avoid contact with the news about Gaza, especially those that tell us about the children who have died, those who have lost their parents, those who are fighting for their lives in the destroyed hospitals? We say that we can no longer deal with images and stories; that we could not function or respond to the demands of normal life if we continued to pay attention; that we can no longer bear feeling so much…

This is compassion fatigue. We need to somehow cool ourselves. We know that the tragedy remains intact and that it will last; we know that we are powerless to some extent; We do not want to believe that we, the human animals, the civilized ones, are capable of massacring the innocent and/or of remaining silent while the innocent are massacred.

Me too, I no longer want to write about Palestine and its children if my text does not have the power and effect to awaken the world. If I don't find the right words to show the drama in its entirety, the words that fill each conscience with the weight of the raw, naked images of our shame, then what's the point of writing?

Do these words, this speech, exist? Will it be the instrument with a single feather, or with a few feathers? Precisely, the answer is no, and this is part of what I have called selective blindness.

Who decides what should concern us?

I have long noticed the existence of a mechanism in the media coverage of some international issues, and I noticed an effect of the way the mechanism works.

But, even before the mechanism I am referring to, it is worth raising an important topic: who defines and how is the news that reaches us every day defined? Who tells us that a certain conflict should appear in the newspaper and occupy a page or two, whether it should be highlighted in the headlines, and who tells us that another conflict should not or needs to be mentioned? Who chooses the images we will see?…

We may return to possible answers to these questions in the future. I only offer a more generic clue: here in Brazil, what is seen as important in the United States will be seen as important.

The mechanism I was referring to works more or less like this, and I use an example to make it clearer: for a while, there is no way not to cover a war in the Middle East, especially if it involves Israel; the bias will tend to be towards reproducing the arguments and narrative of Israel and/or the United States and the West.

The intensity of coverage and the prevailing bias have two desired effects: they sell news and reinforce official narratives; at some point, if reality emerges and reaches the public contrary to the dominant narrative, it is necessary to show a little more of the “other side” to preserve some credibility; and, finally, the moment comes when the news stops selling, perhaps compassion fatigue sets in or, even though the events still ongoing are important, perhaps vital, there is no longer any news that attracts the average consumer of information.

The news dies and it disappears from the newspapers and TVs. But, after a while, weeks, months or even years, something happens in that war that never ended or cooled down, something new that makes it return to the surface and occupy the agenda. The effect of this, for the most part, is the impression that while nothing was reported, nothing was actually happening; the impression that history always has a new, fresh beginning. In other words, nothing is understood that would be interesting to know. In each round, the representations offered to us by those coverage portions are naturalized.

We only see what someone indeterminate wants us to see and we understand things as we are told they are...

They starved to death!

Yesterday, as I tried to divert my attention from the images that constantly reach me from Gaza, as I tried not to meet those children's eyes, a lifeless look for many, a scared, haunted look, for many others, a furious, betrayed look. , for the others, while I was avoiding all of this, suddenly, a phrase captured me and I could no longer escape.

There was talk of a mother who lost all her sleeping children in a single Israeli attack; in a state of shock, she asked: “where are the children? where are the children? they died without having eaten anything! They died of hunger!”

A sin mounted on sin. The mother mourns, as we should cry, the death of her children, and mourns the hunger they felt before they died. Compassion can be tiring; If it shouldn't be like that, I don't know.

The revolt may be tiring too, but I won't part with it. I won't know how to forget, nor will I know how to forgive.

* Salem Nasser He is a professor at the Faculty of Law at FGV-SP. Author of, among other books, Global law: norms and their relationships (Alamedina). [https://amzn.to/3s3s64E]


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