Monthly Awareness Causes: The Numbing Effect

by Bill Brenner on May 16, 2011

I usually skip writing about “awareness” months because I’ve found that, whether I write about it or not, these things cause eyes to glaze over.

Call me a pessimist or an idiot — I’ve been both at various times. But I can’t help feeling this way.

Mood music:

I think it’s great that we set aside a month here and there to drum up some extra attention for our causes, and it’s better to do it than not do anything at all.

But I’m skeptical that these things actually make more people get up and do something. Most will read about the cause and even agree with it, then quickly get sucked back into their busy lives.

It’s a side effect of living in the information age.

So much information is available to us on just about any subject that our brains become like over-saturated sponges, liquid spilling out of all sides because it has no other place to go.

The liquid that escapes is often in the form of these monthly awareness campaigns, whether it’s for autism, breast cancer, Crohn’s Disease, diabetes or hunger and poverty.

The reason I bring it up is that May is Mental Health Month. Since I write a blog about my own experiences on the matter, I always get a bunch of messages this time of year from people asking me to drum up some publicity. As well they should.

They are trying to shake the larger population out of its indifference. I commend them for that, and I commend those who do this sort of thing to raise awareness about things like breast cancer.

But in this information-crammed world we live in today, is there a better way to get more people to make a difference? Perhaps not, but I can’t help but wonder.

I worry that by putting all our effort into awareness months, we’re just causing eyes to glaze over. Once the month is up, people immediately move on to the next thing. I know I do. And those who work on the campaigns get exhausted by the end, leaving less energy for the more useful acts of goodness.

I should probably apologize for my ho-hum reaction to Mental Health Awareness Month and all the other awareness months, for that matter. I don’t want to make those involved feel like they’ve wasted their time caring and trying.

But I think we may all be better off putting more of our energy into the actions that help day to day. That’s a lot harder if you’re a volunteer. When we think of the people who deal with the day to day, we think of those who do it for a living.

It’s harder to put more hours into the daily work of attacking these problems if it means losing payable hours at work.

I’ve heard of companies that actually make it easier for people to volunteer. Some even have incentive programs that reward people for extra community service. The corporate world could use more of that. It would make much more of a difference than these monthly awareness campaigns.

Despite the pessimism I’ve just laid out, I want to thank the people behind these campaigns. I know that whether it’s May, June or January, they’re getting their hands dirty for their cause every day, pulling people like me out of the gutter.

I think of the therapists and 12-Step sponsors who have helped along the way.

Some get paid and some are strictly volunteers. Both have made a difference in my life.

Some are simply friends and family who help us along no matter how difficult we become.

There’s the hospital nurse trying to ease the pain of a cancer patient. The counselors who help drug addicts and alcoholics put their lives back together.

They don’t need an awareness month to try and make a difference. They’re already doing it.

In their big and small ways, they show us how to live — and to help others live.

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