It’s exhausting to give a damn isn’t it?
To be a person of compassion in a time when compassion is in such great demand?
To wake up every day in days like these, and push back against predatory politicians and toxic systems and human rights atrocities and acts of treason and spiritual leadership failures—the volume and the relentlessness of the threats can be wearying.
You may have noticed.
I think you have.
And you’re not simply carrying around these big picture, larger systemic sicknesses and political realities—but the people behind them; the names and the faces and the lives of specific human beings who are under unprecedented duress right now; people whose stories you listen to and know and are living within, people you dearly love.
And day after day, all these massive realities and these individual stories begin to accumulate upon your shoulders and in your clenched jaw and in your elevated heart rate, and in the knot in your stomach that returns every morning when you check Twitter or turn on the news or step out into your community or walk into the kitchen—and you see so many reasons for grief, places so many places compassion is so needed and yet so scarce.
And worst of all, is how many people both at distance and very close to you, just don’t seem to give a damn; how the pain of other people simply doesn’t register in them anymore.
It seems like fewer and fewer people are capable of even an entry-level empathy for the suffering around them, and you’re seriously considering joining their ranks, because of how tired you are of carrying both your own and their share of compassion for a hurting humanity.
Not long after the election I purchased a blood pressure monitor. And not one of those manual base models, either. I went high-end, top of the line; full upper arm cuff, automated pressure, digital readout—the works. I soon stopped using it though, as it was a daily reminder of how stressed I was. I don’t look at it any longer. I don’t measure my blood pressure anymore. Now I just assume it’s dangerously high.
Those of us who give a damn all have new dangers assailing our hearts these days, and it is in this time of relentless urgency and sustained trauma and prolonged fatigue and profound fracture that you and I find ourselves.
I’m not sure why you’re reading this, but it’s probably because still you’re a damn-giver; because you are a fierce lover of humanity and of the planet, and of people who don’t look or worship or sound like you. As a result you probably find yourself pissed off, disconnected, isolated, worn out, and exhausted because how few people are as moved by the need around them as you are.
Whether you’re an activist or a minister or a parent or a caregiver, or just a citizen of the planet who is moved by other people’s suffering—you likely feel the immeasurable heaviness of these days. Sure, speed and activity can mask it for a while, but if you stop long enough, the reality of the fatigue catches up to you—you can measure the toll it’s all taken on you. I want you to measure it. I want you reckon with how tired you are. I want you to hear yourself exhale with the heavy sigh of someone who feels the weight of it all.
There is a cost to compassion, a personal price tag to cultivating empathy in days when cruelty is trending. There is in your body and head and in your midst, a collateral damage to you giving a damn when others do not, and it manifests itself in many ways: in irritability, impatience, physical illness, eating emotionally, addictive behavior, the inability to be present to the people who love you, an obsession with social media, a fixation on how jacked up everything is.
Notice these things in you today, and give them your attention.
Extend some of that compassion you’re so willing to extend to the world—to yourself.
Take some time to step away from the fray and the fight. It will still be there when you return, and you’ll be better able to face it.
Friend, I know you’re exhausted. If you’re not exhausted right now your empathy is busted.
But I also know that you aren’t alone.
Millions of people are as tired as you are right now.
We too, live in disbelief at how callous so many people we know and love have become.
We too, are incredulous witnessing our elected leaders and parents and neighbors and pastors and parents and favorite aunts abandon any semblance of kindness.
We too, feel the fatigue of believing we’re doing this damn-giving alone.
You are in good company, so be encouraged.
Fight like hell to keep your heart soft, even while so many people have become hardened.
Yes, the world is upside-down right now but we can make it right—one beautiful act of decency at a time.
Get some rest and keep going.
The world needs people like you.
Blessed are the damn-givers, for they will right-side the world.
189 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Those Who Still Give a Damn”
I needed to read this today. I’ve seen you offering hope to people who feel that caring just hurts too much. I marveled about your constancy to keep offering that elusive hope, wondering how you keep dipping into your own well of compassion without it drying up. Well, today I needed to know that I am not alone regardless of how many people around me manage to keep their heads above water while I feel like I just might drown. And I read you words. And I feel better. And I will rejoice that hope has fluttered down on her silvery wings to give me respite from the fight. Tomorrow is a new day.
Me too, Carolyn. I’ve been feeling awfully lonely and hopeless, and it does help to know how many others are as saddened at all this. It’s a terrible camaraderie, but there is strength in numbers, I hope. Words are a weapon, for good just as surely as for ill. Jon, thank you for sharing that gift, that balm with so many scalded spirits. It does make a great deal of difference, I promise you.
This is all progressive/liberal, secular talk. The “good news” is Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Quit worrying about worldly things (as this guy, Pavlovitz, does) and share the only thing that is TRUE, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The only one who heals, Jesus Christ. All these comments of folks whining about betrayal of confidences, and pastors that have let them down. GET YOUR EYES OFF OF MEN and focus clearly on the truth that Jesus came to testify to. Jesus could return at any minute, and only those who are found in him will be saved. Pray for your president. Pray for your enemies … Have ANY of you actually read the Bible? Get over yourselves and your petty sqabbles. We are called to be set apart; a strange people.
Jesus Christ is a dead man whose “strength” and “super powers” could not even keep him alive. He lost. He died. Get over it. Real people real animals real planet are dying real deaths. There is no relief for their misery from this man who couldn’t save himself.
Do you really feel that strongly that Jesus allows us to do what the heck we want and if we “profess our belief” he will automatically SAVE YOU? Think again guy! Jesus was a teacher of the Book and gave believers a path to travel in life: empathy, compassion, love for others, sharing our wealth with those that have less, opening our doors to immigrants, etc. IF you LEARNED his teaching of the path to travel and live accordingly it will be YOU that SAVES YOU. Jesus isn’t sitting around waiting just for you so He can save you guy – get to WORK and follow His teachings before it’s too late guy!
AMEN and well said!
And, Ken, we live in a secular society, so your particular brand of “truth” has no bearing on our lives. Now, if elected officials and those who profess to be Christians actually lived the teachings of said Jesus, all humans would be in a much better place. What the author describes above is exactly what we are called to be as humans and is exactly what will “save” us – not in a nebulous fairy tale way, but in real, tangible societal ways.
The “City on a Hill” and “set apart” nonsense is exactly what makes people think they have license to be uncaring for their fellow man and separate themselves from suffering. Tribalism is the reason we are in this mess.
Andrea, Beautifully said!!
You are so right!
If you “give a damn,” share the gospel …
Thanks for sharing. It has been harder to give a darn in the last few years, and not just withdraw and say “Why bother? Nothing changes.”
I sat this morning in the pews at a church I visited (I’m currently on sabbatical for 2 months), thinking close to this, and starting he litany of “who” is to blame for this and is rotten, most despicable in it all, I was also making facing with the baby two rows in front of me looking over her mother’s shoulder. (The advantage of being in the congregation-they don’t tend to like it when I do that while leading service.) And it struck me anew : as this baby is clearly God’s beloved child and attracted so many people present to want to share love and smile with her and receive the hope she brought just by being, Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford, Diane Feinstein and Glassey, Graham and Harris were once such baby that brought smiles and hope to others (hopefully- though I know not everyone gets the privilege of such love and hope ). Democrat or Republican or Independent or none voter all were once held (hopefully) by a family that loved them and saw them as God’s or some other’s blessing. No one comes into the world as a misogamist, abuser or victim, party ideologue or justice seeker (and I’m not defining/applying to any of the aforementioned names as being one of these) . McConnell and Booker, yes even Trump, Schumer, and all who were involved in these painful two weeks either trying to heal or use it to their political advantage. They were at one time-even for a moment- hopefully as carefree and happy as that baby, and loved by their parents (biological or otherwise) just as much and bringing joy to others merely by existing and being who they are.
And so I continue to strive to care, which is to love, to hurt with those who are hurting and speak out for justice and healing where I think there is brokenness and struggle to love those I perceive as unjust or behaving badly. Because even if I have it wrong, as long as I am doing so in God’s love, there is always hope of reconciliation and healing of myself, others, Creation itself – because I have left the space in myself for God’s Spirit to work in ways I cannot imagine or even hope for.
Thank you for your words. My soul needed them today.
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Thank you, I am aware of the toll this is taking on me and some days I just have to disconnect. This has been a reminder to allow this without guilt.
Thank you for this. Thankfully, I’m an artist whose everyday activity gives me serenity and a chance to decompress.
I consider myself a soldier fighting for this country. Soldiers don’t get to take a day off. Neither will I.
That just made me cry. I know I’m not alone, but I feel so outnumbered.
My daughter sent this to me with tears I read it because I care maybe too much of that is possible. I write, phone, text and yes I cry. 71 is a long tine here to watch the hate grow scares me as the disappointment grows with the current administration ‘s rhetoric that has a focus on hate we all need to turn the tide if by one voice at a time. AND yes we need to rest. Thank you , John
This is so me, you really nailed it. A couple of weeks ago I ended up in the ER with an afib episode – I hadn’t had one for 9 years. It makes me so angry to know that the stress of this administration is literally taking a toll on my heart. Yet I can’t just flip a switch and turn off my empathy, it’s just who I am. I just hope we can all survive this period in history with some semblance of health and sanity. Thank you for letting me know I am not alone.
This is living in what Parker Palmer calls the “Tragic Gap”; knowing with my whole body, in the fullness of my soul just how incredible our species could be doing the work that would serve our creative universe, our Loving God…and what we are doing now. Accepting this tragedy requires trusting that the “Arc of Moral Justice” truly bends toward Justice. Teilhard De Chardin, bearing stretchers during WW I, had that faith. So must we.
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I have often thought “how many lives will be lossed by the stress of this administration and the current culture of bullying and hate it has rendered free in the country, from the stress of NOT being able to do much about it?” As each thing I hold dear (kindness, decency, compassion, clean air, clean water, the under dogs of society my neighbor from another country) begin to disappear I find myself grieving much of what I knew to be good and honorable and true. I am a Christian BTW and I do pray daily, hourly and I grieve that loss of safety and a sense of family amongst the church body. These are terrible times and I pray for all of us who do still
“Give a damn” God help us all
My ‘giving a damn’ is being severely tested, and abused, from all sides – and especially that there are, apparently, exceedingly few humans who ‘give a damn’ about the injustices I personally fiercely fight against, which are actually applicable to ALL… I breathe deeply when my heart actually aches…. and hope I am not having a heart attack…
Everything in your message is important; there is no possibility of real humanity without compassion. But please allow me to say that compassion is, in some ways, completely beside the point. Every human being has a right to freedom; food; health; shelter and more. Those rights cannot, must not and do not depend on anyone having compassion for anyone. Compassion has great place in making society more livable and fulfilling for all, and life without it would be hell. But don’t tell me, or anyone else, that I must go hungry, without shelter, sick and shackled until people are able to find love and compassion in their hearts and minds.
I agree – quite simply that ALL sides are contributing to our stress ! I actually think that it is long past time for the liberals to take a step back, stop to think and learn how to take a higher road. They have sunk down deep into the mud and are now the root cause of our stress. Name calling and policy blocking like never seen before. What happened to people and politicians actually working FOR the greater good? Stop spending so much time throwing stones! Stop! Pick them up and start building a wall
I think of it as “45 Flu” — that physical and emotional pain of this president’s time in office, but which is also due to the pre-existing drift toward fascism and hate that has been happening for many decades. But look at the positives, the resistance, the gigantic marches, the legislative defeats of Trump, the revival of progressive activism and the big jump in voter turnout, starting in the Doug Jones victory in Alabama and blossoming into the big move left in November 2018. I have dropped many companies, from Amazon to Greyhound, and have more than ever written strong but focused letters to my representatives. Al this has made me feel stronger and better.
You are so right!
Thank you. and…Are you vegan?
Funny how a blog post from July of 2018 shows up on my FB feed in March of 2019, right when I needed permission to feel ok with not feeling ok. I am the main everything for a nonprofit that helps those with nothing struggling with addiction, not a pretty subject involving people not being pretty. I am tired. Thank you for making space for my emotions today.
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