Empathy—if it’s genuine—is considered, in the Buddhist tradition, to rise directly, to flow naturally out of our basically good human nature.
In other words, it’s fun to serve. It’s inspiring to give. It’s rewarding to care. It’s only when our notion of compassion is forced that we run into burnout (which is, very much, real)…so burnout is actually a great warning signal that we’re on the wrong track, somewhere. Take a step back, and look at our intention, our skillful means (upaya).
That doesn’t sound very controversial, does it? Another way to say that is,
Compassion Fatigue? That’s not a thing.
(the article that pissed everyone off)
Taking care of yourself so that you can care for others is not just “okay”…it is vital.
Compassion fatigue? That’s not a thing.
(Okay: Compassion Fatigue is a thing, as is burnout—but not because compassion is finite).
Empathy is not a finite resource.
From a Buddhist point of view, true empathy is simply caring, from your heart, to another. It is not an act, or an action. It is self-existing, inherent, natural.
Caring arises directly out of your basically good human nature—which is inexhaustible, unconditional.
What’s exhausting is performative caring that isn’t rooted in our basic goodness. Sadly, caring or activism is often rooted not in empathy, but in aggression, ignorance, or clinging.
That doesn’t mean don’t care, or don’t act—that means meditate before you do so, for the rest of your life—and establish your intention as being of benefit, not soapboxing.
Note: Trungpa Rinpoche said that enlightenment was the ego’s ultimate insult…many commenters think that I’m saying they or we don’t get tired. We do. But it’s not because we’re exercising empathy. It’s because we’re viewing it as finite, which we all do. But it’s natural.