Based on a suggestion by Salman Bokhari, for which many thanks
A thoughtful Daily Paradox reader has suggested that I should write about indifference. Clearly, not to do so would make his point that there is a lot of it about. The seeming indifference of the world to the plight of the 800,000+ Rohingya minority, the apparently pointless US military operations in Afghanistan, the resistance of significant numbers of people in the path of a dangerous hurricane to quit their homes – all these seem reasons to ask why are we indifferent to so much that is wrong? The answer is not simple.
We must first ask whether ‘indifference’ is the right way to describe what is happening. Certainly a lack of media attention, inadequate governmental support, insufficient personal giving of time and money can all be classified as indifference. The media will claim they react to demand – a position they have maintained throughout my life as a reason for not disciplining what and how they report. Commercial demands make them ignore some people in plight. They obviously do not have room for every good cause and their mind-jogging role is effective only in so far as they are watched and read.
Surely so many people in trouble is good enough reason for them to pay attention? Big scale disaster is certainly grounds for appeal and I give the media a low rating for their coverage of the Rohingya until very recently. Not true of the hurricanes in the Caribbean, Texas, and the Gulf of Florida. Physical disaster involving property and spectacular destruction will always attract media attention. A family’s decision to stay in their home may be foolish but it is their right to do so even if it risks their lives and limbs. Or is it another form of indifference?
We can all handle only so much. I watched people cry at the announcement of the outbreak of WWII. Six years later I saw them dry-eyed even when their neighbour’s son was killed in action. We have a limit to how much we can care, to the amount of money we can give and to the amount of time we may spend on helping others. It could often be more, for sure, but it cannot be infinite. As a cousin said to me on the death of his much loved wife “there is a limit to the amount you can cry”. Empathy fatigue is a very real issue.
I think the antidote to our problem is to be more caring rather than simply less indifferent. Caring can be about big events but it is most effective when it is about small ones. To care how you respond to anger, to care about the convenience or comfort of another person, to care that life is orderly, fun and rewarding – these are the things that dispel indifference. A ninety-year-old artisan taught me carpentry in the 1940s. One day someone was careless with a tool, a chisel as I recall. Mr Hirons took a bunch of keys out of his pocket and threw them fairly hard onto the bench. “If you treat your tools roughly,” he said, “you will probably treat people roughly. Neither will respond well to that.”
We are not all called to be Mother Teresa of Calcutta but we can all follow her example.
“I care for the one in my arms” she said. So can we.