Caring for Our Compassion

Volunteers in Code for America’s Network place themselves on the frontlines of civic tech crises. They ready themselves for rapid response to issues large and small, then work to scale solutions and iterate on new practices as quickly as possible.

Concentrated action on either ends of where systemic inequities show up – chasing flashpoints, dodging pitfalls – can make us feel stretched thin at the core, in our relationships with each other and to ourselves. This is where we need our sense of connection to be strongest!

How do we sustain compassion at our center, in community together? In this post for Code for Canada, Gillian Wu talks about learning not only how to identify signs of compassion fatigue as a UX designer, but what they did to address it. Here’s how those signs and tips might apply to volunteer experiences with Code for America:

Check Your People Pulse

Your mood shifts suddenly and significantly. It can feel like the proverbial rug swept out from under feet, the sudden shift in mood caused by depleting physiological reserves. Sensory indicators of mood changes are different for everyone. Some descriptions include unexpected or unexplained: rapidly elevated heartrate, tight chest or stomach, burning ears, blurred vision, trembling, sweating, tension in jaw or shoulders.

You’re avoiding reciprocal connections. The volunteer life offers more than just Getting Stuff Done for the Greater Good, it also fosters mutually beneficial connections both professionally and personally. However, it can takes a certain level of care to sustain those connections, which can become a source of strain instead when there’s a lot going on. You may be struggling to feel the love if you find yourself canceling coffee chats or check-ins you might normally look forward.

You’re struggling to engage with material. Volunteer projects in Code for America’s Network often involve a lot of documentation and communication across a few different spaces. That adds up to a lot of notification-related stress pointing to a seemingly endless stream of tasks needing done. Fatigue from these experiences can look like ignored or delayed replies to queries, not retaining information despite several attempts, or a sense of dread when thinking of engaging with materials.

Reach Out, Set Limits, Have Fun

You’re not alone. You can email if you’re struggling to connect with others, feeling like your value or purpose in the Network isn’t recognized, or experiencing ongoing discomfort within the community. You can also schedule a care co-practice with me, a peer support specialist, via this link.

You’re human. You can’t do it all, and nobody in the Network should expect more from you than you can safely offer. Our code of conduct empowers team leads with protecting the boundaries and limits our volunteers describe so that our community thrives in equitable inclusivity. Many volunteers block time by the day or at certain hours in order to control how much impact projects have on other aspects of their life.

You’re invited. There are plenty of casual, fun and friendly channels on Slack if you need memes, cat pics, cat pic memes, memes of cat pics and so much more. You can also pop into Code for Pawnee’s virtual hangout on, the Pawnee Pub. Check code-for-pawnee on Slack for the latest invite link.

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