I must confess, identifying a single evil that plagues society is a difficult chore. Having spent many a night, listening to documentaries on prostitution, gang violence, corrupt regimes, and refugees, I have plenty of options to choose from. Perhaps, I must talk about the boat people from Myanmar or repeated school shootings in a country that spends over 700 billion dollars in defense or maybe indulge in my gripe about rape culture in India. These are all good options to choose from but if there is one thread that links all these seemingly isolated phenomena together, its Apathy: our inability to care.
But before I go on a spiel about how people do not care, neatly packaged as an essay, I must try and unpack apathy in society. What causes apathy? Why don’t people care about the safety of women or school shootings or a never-ending refugee crisis?
Thousands attended Jamel Dunn’s funeral. Sadly, all the man needed was one of the few teenagers who were recording him as he drowned in a lake, to show him mercy. Lawmakers in Arizona and Florida scampered together to come up with some law to punish these individuals above and beyond branding them ‘Bad Samaritans’. These were people who could see the direct repercussions of their inaction and yet chose to do nothing. What about the billions of people around the world who wake every morning and operate in a world run on fossil fuels, that pays women substantially lesser money than men for the same job and turns a blind eye on the millions who are displaced, hungry and running out of hope?
These people cannot even see the direct consequences of their inaction.
They are plagued with thoughts such as there will always be someone else to raise discourse on women’s safety or how can one person’s consumption of fossil fuels really impact the environment? Therefore, any action is simply an extension of their charitable pursuits or a cost to their already burdened life rather than a responsibility they are expected to fulfill. When we award someone for saving a drowning man, we recognize his/her deed an extraordinary effort and that’s why we are left scratching our heads when asked if bystanders during a crime should be prosecuted?
Confused? Let’s expand this analogy and bring in more meta issues such as environmental conservation, lighter immigration laws to help refugees or tougher regulations on the sale of assault weapons to civilians. Most people will agree that these issues are important but most people consider their involvement in the pursuit of these issues as acts of charity or social justice, making them charitable people or social justice warriors. The problem with this train of thought much like awarding a good Samaritan for helping a drowning a man is that these actions are viewed as extraordinary. Therefore, being unconcerned or being apathetic is the norm rather than an outlier. If the converse were true, being charitable and empathetic to the plight of people and the environment would be the norm and doing otherwise would be the anomaly.
But it all starts with visualizing the direct consequences of our inaction. These consequences need to be as visceral as watching a man drown to his death. But why is this not possible? Because by the time we get around doing just that, the media cycle has changed, there is yet another refugee crisis; yet another woman that has been raped; and possibly yet another school shooting. So, now we need time to grieve and think about what we can do later.
When and how do we break this vicious cycle? How does the world refrain from remaining apathetic? When do we start placing more emphasis on our inaction?
Maybe we can start by having this conversation.
(Picture Sourced Externally)