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Michael O'Doherty: Compassion Fatigue

At the risk of sounding glib, and trivialising a very serious subject (a sure sign I'm about to say something glib and trivial...), we're all the victims of natural disasters.

We don't need the ground to open up or the waves to come cascading in for us to feel nature's wrath. Most relationships I know are akin to living in a straw house in Tornado Alley. No matter how long things seem fine for, you know that one day those pesky twisters are going to get you. And just as governments come to the aid of disaster victims, so friends rally around those in a emotional crisis. But does that make our lives better? Not a bit of it ...

Some people turn aid away point blank, happy to delude themselves that they don't need it. We've seen those nutters on TV -- shouting at the camera as they barricade themselves into their house while the neighbouring volcano prepares to erupt. They refuse to leave because they can't let go of all the stuff that defines their lives, the family photos and soft furnishings they decorated it with.

I've lost track of the number of people who live like this -- as their relationship is crumbling all around them, as everyone who knows them is screaming at them to get out before it destroys them, they lock themselves in their shack, terrified of losing the trappings of their lifestyle: the long lunches, the foreign holidays. They convince themselves that the molten lava will simply flow around them. And all we can do, after they've wrecked their lives, is shrug our shoulders and tell their smouldering remains: "I told you so."

Others do accept humanitarian aid but, very often, it's the wrong type of aid. When struck down by a cataclysmic event, we should really be looking for something solid and long-term, that will help get our lives back on track. But many make the mistake of going for the short-term solution -- a blanket here, a cup of rice there -- all these things paper over the cracks, but do nothing to solve the underlying problem.

What we really need is something that will help us to help ourselves. We need a well. We need a goat. But instead of infrastructure, the path to lead us to a happy life, we storm the aid plane the minute it lands, and push people aside in a frenzy so we can be first to get to the Snickers bars. Because, ultimately, all we want is a sugar rush to tide us over 'til the next disaster strikes. A drinking binge here, a one-night stand there -- anything to numb the pain.

We're all refugees. Some are wrapped in blankets, shivering against the elements. Others, less obviously, are wrapped in Dior, utterly messed up on the inside. And it's these people, clad in their finery, out on boozy four-hour lunches with their equally delusional friends, who are the most pathetic ones. The reality is that whether we're in Port-au-Prince or Puerto Banús, most of us are just clinging on for dear life -- the tragedy is that many of us don't even know it.

Michael O'Doherty is publisher of the VIP magazine group