Monday, September 3, 2012

Dear Apathetic People

Dear Apathetic People,

I keep coming across the same mentality in different spheres of life.  People will converse, someone will posit an opinion, and you'll respond with something along the lines of, "Why do you care?  It doesn't affect you in any way."

The more I see you say that, the more disgusted I become, and the more I wonder if other people will pick up on your ideas.  Let's clear it all up now before it spreads.

Here's why you're wrong: We don't live in a void.  No man is an island.  It takes a village.  I can throw overused phrases at you all day, and they'll continue to be true.  I don't live in my own private society of one, and neither do you.  What we do affects each other, sometimes in huge and devastating ways, sometimes in minor and barely perceptible ways.

How other people live affects me.  Their quality of life, their happiness, their health and success and lack thereof, affect me.  Maybe not directly, in that if my neighbor stubs his toe my feet continue to feel just fine.  But let's say that his house burns down.  How does this affect me?
  • If the fire spreads, my house might suddenly be on fire, too.
  • I now live next to a charred ruin.  It's both an eyesore and a reminder of the ever-present threat of tragedy and loss.
  • Maybe he'll rebuild.  If so, I'll live next door to a construction site.  That means loud noises at any hour of the day, trucks and other vehicles in my normal route of navigation, debris, etc.
  • Maybe someone else will move in next door.  New neighbors: are they pleasant to live near?  Maybe we'll become friends.  Maybe we'll barely speak to each other.  Maybe they'll throw loud parties or play basketball at two in the morning or let their dog defecate on my lawn.
All of that ignores the basic human component.  It goes something like this: My neighbor's house burns down.  My neighbor is a fellow human being who's just suffered a great loss.  He now has a personal tragedy to deal with and recover from.  That touches me because I possess empathy.  Maybe I'll reach out to him directly and offer him material support in the form of money or a place to stay.  Maybe I'll offer him emotional support and advice.  Maybe I'll just worry about him and wish him well.  Maybe I'll find out what caused the fire and double-check my own habits to prevent his fate from befalling me.

I don't have to be on fire, myself, to care that someone else is on fire.

I care about the happiness of people around me.  I care about the quality of life of people around me.  Even the people I don't know.  We all bump into each other, at work or around town or on-line.  We're all members of intersecting communities.  If I hear that someone's going around spitting on left-handed people, I don't shrug it off with a careless, "I'm not right-handed, it doesn't affect me, whatever."  The fact remains (in this scenario, although I hope not in actuality) that someone's going around spitting on people.  That's ridiculous and unwarranted and needs to stop.  Why would I not have an opinion on it?  Why would I not speak up about it?  Why would I not commiserate with the people even more directly affected by it than I am?

"I don't care because it doesn't affect me in any way" is bullshit, because it does affect you in some way, even a very minor, many degrees removed way.

"I don't care because it doesn't affect me" also suggests a narcissistic, self-absorbed, antisocial mentality.  Your self-interested lack of empathy is disgusting.  Discouraging other people from caring is even worse and somewhat contradictory.  Why do you care if they care?

Even if you lack empathy, you must understand that what other people do affects you.  It makes sense on a larger scale.  The economy, for instance.  The environment.  What other people do all around you has an impact on your life.  If you live in the USA's culture of violence, you may be aware that there have been a number of public shootings over the last few weeks.  Other people may affect you whether you see it coming or not.  If you understand it on a larger scale, try to see that it works on a smaller scale, too.  Even in minor ways.  When some members of a community are scared or angry or confused or anything else, it affects other members of the community.  Since you don't live on a solitary island within a void, you're a member of a community.  You're a member of a society.  What other people do affects you.  What you do affects them.  One way or another.

I want to be a member of a vibrant, healthy society.  I want the communities I'm involved in to flourish.  I want the people around me to be happy.  Your self-absorbed, me-first, apathetic mentality is fucking that up.  Please reconsider.

With love,
Frank Lee

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