Dear Guardian,

Let’s start with a guy’s words — those tend to carry more weight than those of a woman, right? — : Jackson Katz says the term ‘violence against women’ is ‘a passive construction, there’s no active agent in the sentence…nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them, men aren’t even a part of it.’ Surely, I thought, after #metoo and Sarah Everard, the conversation might have changed? But no.

When I spotted this recent article among your news headlines, I counted for you.

The number of times you mention ‘women’, ‘girls’, or ‘female’? Twenty-nine. Thirty-four…

Image by Andrew Martin

Altruism is good, right? After all, it’s what, in the world of doing good, we’re here for — we’re here to help, in service of other beings and the planet. Not so fast, says Joan Halifax with her book ‘Standing at the Edge’: There is a dark side to altruism.

A while ago I picked up a book that I ended up reading in one big sigh of relief. With her book Standing at the Edge’, Buddhist teacher, priest and anthropologist Joan Halifax gave me the gift of a clarity and language I needed to make sense of a confusing…

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

Can the suffering of others make us sick, what are the symptoms, and what can be done about it? That’s what GP turned executive coach Rachel Morris and I talked about for this new episode of her podcast You Are Not A Frog: What we are talking about when we talk about compassion fatigue. You can listen on Apple podcasts, Spotify and here.

People working in the helping professions, global and environmental change all have something in common: The emotional relentlessness of a job that involves constantly being faced with humans, animals or a planet in distress. Our ability to…

©Leela Channer for CAUX-IofC 2019

From a young age, I knew I wanted to ‘do good’ for a living. And so I became a helper, an altruist, here to change the world — an advocate on behalf of people less fortunate than me. Here’s how it went wrong, and what surprised me in learning how we can be of service in the world.

This talk (video below) was recorded by Initiatives of Change at the “Tools for Change Makers” conference, part of the 2019 Caux Forum in Caux, Switzerland. Further down this page is a transcript of the talk.

Photo credit: ©Leela Channer for CAUX-IofC…

Photo by Jonas Jacobsson (Unsplash)

Against common preconceptions, it is possible to involve ourselves emotionally and keep our sanity when serving people and planet in difficult contexts. In many ways, it’s vital that we do. But the professions in question are ripe with myths about the role of empathy and emotions in our work — at a huge cost.

People whose work confronts them with the suffering of people, animals or planet— activists, aid workers, academics, social workers, journalists, healthcare professionals, change makers of any kind — often believe they have a choice between being emotionally involved and being sane.

If you’re one of them…

Compassion fatigue is a form of emotional burnout, which can feel like ‘losing one’s spark’.

Join me for Sustained Compassion— an introduction to the practice and neuroscience of overcoming compassion fatigue and its relatives.

I will be offering a free, 5 week online programme to support you in developing skills to overcome compassion fatigue, caregiver burnout and their relatives.

This programme is for you if any of the following applies to you:

  • In your work, you are in any way confronted with the suffering of poverty, injustice, violence or ill health in your community or around the world.
  • You are experiencing compassion fatigue or caregiver burnout (read more about them below), or related difficulties with sustaining your motivation and care.
  • You are curious about ways in which you can stay emotionally involved and motivated…

Many of us who’ve committed our lives to a social or humanitarian cause will often be adamant that we see all human beings as equal. The uncomfortable truth is none of us really do. Biology and our culture have programmed difference into us. If our constant ‘othering’ is the problem behind so much of the inequality, inertia and conflict we see in our work and organisations, then what can we do to overcome it?

I cannot recall how many times, in conversations on transforming the international aid and development industry, or indeed the wider ‘helping professions’, I’ve heard the phrase…

In professions routinely confronted with suffering, it is common belief that we have a choice between emotional shutdown and emotional breakdown. But neither is a viable strategy. Neuroscience sheds light on a tried and tested alternative that can be practiced by anyone and transforms how we respond.

Empathy can plunge us into emotional distress. You know what it’s like to encounter a homeless person in the street, or see the terror in the eyes of a child in a country ravaged by war. According to moral philosopher and founder of the Effective Altruism movement Peter Singer, we get so trapped…

We routinely look away from pain and disillusionment in our efforts to do good. Joanna Macy’s seminal work sheds some light on the reasons for and cost of sticking our heads in the sand, and why allowing ourselves to be in pain is so vital.

I’ve had many conversations lately with people who are deeply disillusioned, exhausted and in pain about their jobs in charities and other organisations working for the ‘greater good’. Maybe you too are one of the many who once deeply cared about their work and lost their spark somewhere along the way. A few years ago…

Agnes Otzelberger

Show up for the world you want.

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