Compassion Fatigue Could Create a New Epidemic of Intolerance in Canada

It’s coming to the end of January 2022 and the Omicron variant shows no signs of slowing down. So many people are getting infected with COVID that most businesses are short-staffed and unable to operate at full capacity.

Those who are vaccinated are experiencing much milder disease and they’re less infectious and more briefly infectious than the unvaccinated, but this can’t be said for the unvaccinated.

The ICUs here in Ontario are packed and important procedures like cancer surgery, heart surgery and surgery to repair birth defects in children are being postponed. People are becoming more and more frustrated with the unvaccinated, who they blame for the majority of these problems.

A poll conducted by Maru Public Opinion over January 14 and 15, 2022, showed that two-thirds of Canadians were in favour of mandatory vaccines for people over the age of five. A third of the respondents found it acceptable if the unvaccinated weren’t permitted to renew their driver’s license.

As well, 27 per cent approved of the unvaccinated serving a five-day jail sentence for endangering others and overwhelming the healthcare system, and 37 per cent agreed that the unvaccinated should not have access to any publicly funded medical services.

Nurse with a vaccine and a woman wearing a mask in the background
Source: Pexels.com

People are becoming angrier and less tolerant of the unvaccinated

While most of these mandates aren’t plausible or even constitutional, the survey responses indicate some incredibly strong feelings on the part of Canadians who, as a rule, tend to be more moderate in their sentiments. It shows how overwhelmed everyone is by the pandemic and how much all of us want things to get back to normal.

Many Canadians are furious at the unvaccinated who they see as perpetuating the pandemic and increasing everyone’s suffering. They’re losing all patience with the portion of the population that continues to refuse the shot. Most of the time, Canadians are willing to agree to disagree with one another, but it’s less and less so when it comes to vaccinations these days.

Photographer: SJ Objio | Source: Unsplash

Healthcare workers are at risk of compassion fatigue

In general, compassion fatigue is on the rise. Health-care workers are exhausted and are having to care for hostile patients who, as they’re struggling with COVID, are screaming at them that the virus is a hoax and are refusing the proper treatments. Some healthcare staff are being threatened by angry mobs who are calling them murderers for encouraging vaccinations and treating their patients for COVID.

It’s difficult to know how to manage this situation. What I do know is that society seems to be splitting along the lines of the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, and this can’t be good for any of us.

The unvaccinated are more and more furious about what they perceive as their rights being impinged, and the vaccinated are more and more furious over their belief that the unvaccinated are preventing them from getting back to their normal lives. I fear things getting worse as the government starts to crack down even more on the unvaccinated.

We need to find a balance, in which we do what’s best for our society, but not in a punitive way. We need to have compassion for all citizens, even if it’s ruthless compassion. By that, I mean combining the tolerance and understanding of traditional compassion with clarity and tough-mindedness.

With ruthless compassion, we understand that the government has to do what’s best for the majority of the population, even when there’s a small minority that’s opposed to it.

Photographer: Tingey Injury Law Firm | Source: Unsplash

Society has always balanced the needs of the many against the desires of the few

This has always been the case. A minority of people were vehemently opposed to seat belts in cars, but they became the law. Some people were opposed to motorcycle helmets, but again, the law was put into place. Some people were furious about smoking being banned from indoor areas, but again, this became the law. The government is always having to put aside the interests of certain small groups in order to prioritize the good of the majority.

We can appreciate the fact that our government is trying to do its best for all of us and we can have compassion for one-another. The unvaccinated can appreciate how the rest of society feels about their choices, and the vaccinated can be more understanding about where the vaccine-hesitant are coming from.

Photographer: Hannah Busing | Source: Unsplash

We can’t risk losing our compassion for one-another

If we all lose our compassion, we’re at risk of going from a pandemic of COVID to an epidemic of anger, hatred, and intolerance. Given that we all want our lives to go back to normal, we need to recognize that being in a constant state of conflict with one-another is not the way that this will happen.

As angry, frustrated and overwhelmed as we are, we need to make some room in our hearts to include those who don’t think the way we do. Practicing ruthless compassion is the only way we’re going to get through the pandemic with our mental health intact, and it’s the only way we’re going to return to a civilized society, post-pandemic.

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Marcia Sirota

Marcia Sirota

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Writer, speaker, MD, and author of the Short & Sweet Guides to Life book series