Reach Out this Season

Maybe you’ve seen this phrase, Reach out this season. It has been written in other words, but the appeals that come this time of year can create decision fatigue. How do we decide who to give our time, energy, and money to?

If you have ever given to a charity to feed a hungry child or even a civic organization they will ask again. It’s not that they are greedy, but if you gave once, there is an expectation that you agree with what their doing and that you would want to continue to participate.

If you have ever volunteered for an event or as part of an ongoing project the organizers will ask again too. For the same reason.

The struggle is real.

Most of the activists I know have been givers from their youth. Some had radical events later in life too, but it doesn’t take long to be inundated with requests for help if you’re ‘out there’ letting lots of people know that you care about others.

We sign petitions, attend fundraisers, sign in at talks and functions. We are active in our community and meet more people who care about others as well. So, we exchange cards and greetings, and contact information.

I get mail and email appeals everyday. A few times a week calls come in asking for money. Social media has it’s share as well. I care about the kids in Africa, the hungry, the abused, the sad and lonely. I bet you do too. There are so many.

Decision fatigue can be crippling.

There are too many needy causes at a time when we are culturally conditioned to serve our families. Deciding to go shopping for gifts for family members or go serve at a homeless shelter may be easy for some, but for someone with a full time job or chronic illness it is a big decision.

I have limited funds, which most people do, every dollar spent is a decision. If I give dishes to a needy family, I will not be able to buy for a family member. Maybe you never agonize over such decisions. When the requests come to fund a home for children rescued from brothels, it’s too painful to say no. If someone asks to help give children who’s parent has died in the line of duty, our hearts go out with empathy and concern for their future. Or the pregnancy center who’s outreach helps families and saves the lives of pre-born children every week. Of course we want to help.

There is an interesting article about decision fatigue.  The basic premise is that decision making is actually hard work that requires energy. That’s why we often come home from work and zone out in front of television. We allow our brains to be more passive. In the article, it explains that poverty is a trap perpetuated in part by this very concept. Every decision is a trade off when you don’t have money. The fatigue causes depletion of the energy required to work toward future goals when the temptation to sit down and eat a cinnamon bun smells so good.

Pay attention to your body and mind.

Making decisions with trade-offs seems to be the most taxing. So that may be why many people feel like this season is the most exhausting time of year. Especially, in our super commercialized society. With so many needy causes and at the same time so many cool gift ideas for family and friends, the financial decisions alone can be overwhelming. Then, think of all the gatherings, the parties for families, friends, and coworkers. To go or not to go, that is the question.

No matter what your financial situation is, there will be trade-off decision making this season. Being aware of what we eat and preparing to participate in activities can be one more thing to think about, but having a good, nutritious meal before shopping or making decisions about which volunteer projects you will participate in is worth the effort. It will save distress in the long run.

If you are having trouble making decisions, take a break, maybe even a nap and a piece of fruit when you get up before looking at the pros and cons would do a world of good. Running on empty will not last. No one can keep it up for long before they’ll crash and burn.

For those of us who are activists out of our own recognition of the needs we faced, vicarious suffering complicates all of this. We must take care of ourselves, in order to be able to care for others. That could mean talking with others before jumping into anything. Or it may mean not doing things that wear us out.

So, don’t beat yourself up. Do your best and be present in whatever you do.

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