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Catalyst Notes

how to stay compassionate when we watch the news

I have a confession to make

Las week was #RefugeeWeek and I was silent because I had so many things I wanted to say, and I didn’t know how to say them in words…

So many ideas/ responses/ thoughts bubbling away inside me, but not yet birthed or able to be articulated…

I was 'frozen' in shock, horror, denial, grief, guilt and shame. It's taken me days to withdraw, regroup, find my words...

and it left me curious ...

What happens inside us when we are confronted by distressing/ bad/ difficult situations in the news and wider social media …

How do we respond to the policy and reality of the separation of families at the US border...?

Engaging with this issue raises deeply uncomfortable questions around the UK’s response to asylum seekers, how we are treating humans at our European borders

Here in the UK, the US can be like a mirror for us – it’s easy to judge and condemn and be horrified – but what does this say about us?  It is easy to look ‘over there’ and critique (and it needs critiquing!) and this is a way of holding off our own responsibility or implicatedness.

It is deeply uncomfortable to engage with these issues. There are no easy quick fix answers. 

When we cannot in our brains immediately ‘fix' something – unless we pause in that moment and are intentional about a different choice, we will likely get tripped into a threat response which leads to denial and distancing.

We go into denial – this cannot be happening !

We distance ourselves - this is  not us! We are not like this!

 Where actually the separating of families has deep roots in US past – see HERE These kinds of actions have been the nature of America and white supremacy through its history. There are multiple human tragedies that are happening at Europe’s borders and we only need to look to the recent Windrush scandal to see some of our underlying attitudes to immigration as a nation.

We can easily feel guilt and shame (but it's not me! I didn't cause this situation! I'm not a racist!) and this then causes us to shut down – step away – literally turn it off- scroll onto something else – look away.

There is a distancing that goes on.

This is part of my privilege – I am not having to LIVE this particular experience day in day out. I have the privilege to tune in and tune out as I choose.

It is tempting to tune out, to switch off. Our brains and bodies and emotions and spirits can hit overwhelm as we absorb and engage with distress. 

It takes effort and staying present with emotional engagement to choose compassion. 

What is the cost of switching off/ of turning away? It takes effort to numb and block and deny and self-comfort so there is a cost to that too. There is also a cost to our humanity. We essentially dehumanise others in order to feel safe and ok in ourselves.

But finding out information and then doing nothing with it or taking no action doesn’t move or change anything. It doesn’t shift me, it doesn’t shift the situation.  

Compassion and informed action is more life giving.

The choice point is to breathe, notice our discomfort and then choose to stay present with the feelings, allow them to pass, and then move towards a compassionate response. 

And yes this is about sustainability, and we're in this for the long haul so yes prioritise self care because otherwise we burn out.

More to say on all these topics! (I am choosing to invest in some CPD around whiteness, white supremacy, privilege – to add more depth to my work around inclusion and diversity, and to challenge myself as to how I as a white woman can best be involved in social change. It’s going to get  uncomfortable!)


So here are some suggestions for how we stay compassionate when we watch the news:

1.       The news can be distressing and overwhelming and triggering – and of course it is bias and partial – so choose your sources wisely and read/ watch a variety of sources.

2.       Social media thrives on ‘moral outrage’ as it’s default setting – it’s what drives the clicks and likes and so it’s what the algorithm hooks on to and feeds you more of.  It also kicks off our 'threat' state, so we are less likely to choose a compassion response. Choose not to get sucked into the vortex of moral outrage – notice how you are feeling as you scroll through your feed and take a time out to breathe.

3.       Breathe, ground yourself in your own reality of space and time

4.       Choose to stay curious

5.       Notice the issues that fire you up, turn you on, cause distress, generate anger in you and I encourage you to LISTEN to that data as it contains wisdom for you and your calling in the world. 

6.       Breathe. Sit with the uncomfortable feelings. Notice the guilt shame fear anger or whatever rises up. Feel the feels! Notice when you want to run/ hide/ switch off/ turn away. Take a time out if needed. Then return here and get curious – what is that ‘distancing' about for you?

7.        Allow the feelings to move you to compassion and action…. I find asking ‘what does love require of me in this situation’ can help

8.       Your action may be prayer, giving, writing or calling your MP/ representative, changing who you bank or invest with, choosing which products you buy or don’t buy, creating new friendships in your community …

9.       Be gentle with yourself … this work takes energy and needs resilience .. the work of social change is long term and persistent and consistent … and definitely do something, because that's where we learn most.


to connecting with our compassion,


P.S. If you do want to know more about the particular US situation this article HERE  https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/06/child- separation/563252/?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=The+week+in+patriarchy&utm_term=278979&subid=26060619&CMP=patriarchy

 and this post from Elizabeth Warren HERE


helped me understand more about what was going on

if you want to give money you can do that through Together Rising or There are a number of organizations working to protect children who have been separated from their parents. They rely on donations to fund their work – this tool at ActBlue will split any donation equally between 14 different groups.

If you are in the US the group Indivisible has a call tool, too, along with a suggested scriptpeople can use to pressure their senators or congresspersons.

and for more about the UK’s response to refugees and asylum seekers https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-44633606 and ways to take action you can do that here https://www.refugee-action.org.uk/