November 16, 2009

Indifference Could Result in the Demise of Community

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*Appeared in the Sun-Times Beacon News on Sunday, November 16, 2009

Indifference may very well be the plague that eventually leads to our demise. The worse words strung together in the English language to form a sentence are: I – don’t – care. Of-course I’m not suggesting that those words aren’t appropriate as the answer to insignificant and meaningless questions like, “Where do you want to go to dinner?” or “What movie do you want to see?” In those situations, it may be better if one person were genuinely indifferent because some would starve before deciding on a restaurant choice if one person had a passionate preference for Chinese food while the other for Italian food. Either that, or they would eat alone.

The indifference I speak of is the kind that prohibits us from movement because we are absolutely convinced that what we do does not matter. I find so many people that fall into this category not because they genuinely don’t care but because they don’t believe that their action will have any adverse effect on a particular outcome. When we begin to fall into this line of thinking, the natural reaction is to find a place of indifference because it’s easier to not care if things don’t go our way. It’s a layer of protection that we use so we aren’t disappointed with defeat. The defense mechanism is in place so the agony isn’t quite as piercing.

Sometimes I long to be one of the ones who have mastered apathy. What a simple existence it must be to go through life genuinely not caring what happens around them as long as it doesn’t adversely affect them. I know many people who live life with the schematic that asks, “What does this have to do with me?” A great example of this was the recent beating of a young Chicago student at the hands of several thugs armed with 2×4’s. Onlookers thought best to videotape the beating rather than assist the student who would later die from the injuries he sustained. Were those spectators plagued with the disease of apathy? I often wonder what goes through a persons mind when they fail to answer the call for action.

I started thinking about the consequences of a police officer who decides they just don’t care anymore. Several weeks ago, an officer on the midnight shift saw several subjects sitting in a car in the middle of the night. When he approached the car, he noted that they were smoking marijuana and he subsequently arrested them and then searched the car. In doing so, he found proceeds from a burglary that the subjects had just committed. It was later learned that the same subjects were responsible for a rash of burglaries on the far east side over a several week span. No one would have been the wiser had that officer chose indifference and drove past the occupied vehicle. It would have been much easier not to stop – not to mention much less paperwork.

You don’t have to be a police officer patrolling the streets to care about what happens in your city or your place of work. I question the possibility of what would happen if we all stopped going through life so apathetic. Imagine what we could get done if we truly cared about our life’s work and the things that happen around us.

Interestingly enough, there are many people who exist just to do the minimum and spend their lives merely getting by while suffering no consequences. It may be a simple existence but it is also meaningless. Dr. Seuss perhaps said it best: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

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