When Did We Stop Caring? Are We Less Empathetic than Past Generations? What Does It Take to Start Caring?

When did we stop caring? Is our ability to feel sympathy and show compassion towards others slowly deteriorating? Why have we become so “Comfortably Numb”? Is it too late or can we still reverse it? What does it take to start caring?

Elie Wiesel, a 1986 Nobel prize laureate, novelist, political activist, and a Holocaust survivor, had put it nicely:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
Elie Wiesel, 1986 Nobel prize laureate. Photo credits: David Shankbone

When Did We Stop Caring?

Is it just me or has something changed in all of us lately? From the “Selfie Obsession” that has taken over the social media; to always complaining about the crazy weather rather than blaming our over-consumption; to catching up on last night’s “Big Brother” during the water cooler chat at the office rather than talking about the spreading phenomenon of crony capitalism; to focusing on the here and now, and to hell with future consequences. It seems that somewhere along the line, we simply stopped caring. When did it happen to us? When did we become so nonchalant? Are we less caring than our grandparents? Than our parents? When did we stop trying to make a change? When did we stop caring?

Have we always been this way? When did “liking” an initiative on Facebook or writing an angry post start replacing an actual action? A real effort to change things, outside of the social media realm, that is? Why do we ignore the homeless person we see every day, on our way to work, yet we hurry to “share” a heart-breaking story about yet another victim of modern society, believing it is enough? All it takes is a quick look around us to realize that people are losing interest faster than the time it takes the average person to brush their teeth. Can you blame them? In a world always on the go, wowing us with an endless amount of stimulations and content; forcing us to be connected 24/7, multi-task constantly, and squeeze a life somewhere in between, all we want is to disconnect and ignore things that bother us. If it’s too much, you simply “switch off” and stop caring, right?

Photo: pixabay.com

How often do you find yourself “competing” with an incoming Whatsapp text message or with popping Facebook notifications while talking with a friend? Never before had it been so hard for us to stay focused. A study by Microsoft revealed that our digitized life has negatively affected our average attention span. Within a decade, it had dropped from 12 seconds to a mere 8 seconds and it only seems to be going downhill.

Are We Less Empathetic than Past Generations?

Whom can we blame for this dramatic change in us? Does technology have anything to do with it? We tend to think (and brag) about us being much more tech-savvy than past generations. But is it always an advantage? Do our parents have more ability to sympathize with others? Will next generations suffer the consequences of our extensive usage of technology? At the moment, the future of mankind doesn’t seem too bright. Some experts now claim that our ever-growing reliance on technology might not only negatively affect our intelligence. It might also influence our children’s emotional intelligence (EI) and their ability to feel empathy. Professor Jennifer Aaker (Stanford Graduate School of Business, co-author of “The Dragonfly Effect”) conducted an extensive analysis of 72 studies examining 14,000 college students between 1979 and 2009. Her findings were quite alarming — the empathy trait of the examined students had dropped dramatically in the last 10 years. What does this mean? Are we less empathetic that we used to be? Are we less empathetic than past generations? Are we less caring? Only time will tell.

Photo: pixabay.com

What makes some of us indifferent and others environmentalists, politically-engaged enthusiasts, human and/or animal-rights activists? Why do we care about the young and ignore the old? Why is the social media bustling with posts, shares, and discussions related to EU-targeted terror attacks, but little is said about terrorism outside of the EU? Are the gruesome terror attacks in Paris and Brussels more atrocious than the ones in Nigeria or in Lahore? Why did the gold-white-blue-black dress lead to such a lively worldwide discussion in 2015, whereas the fact that one in three women still experiences physical or sexual violence hadn’t stirred up the same public interest?

Picture: pixabay.com

What Does It Take to Start Caring?

The good news is we are not beyond salvation; it’s never too late to start caring. The choice whether to care or not is ours to make. But how to actually make people care and be more engaged? A good example is the indifference people show toward climate change. Apparently, many people don’t or can’t grasp the direct impact they have on climate change. At best, this results in a certain level of awareness but zero action. More often than not, though, people are quite indifferent when it comes to this complex topic.

Photo: pixabay.com

As virtual reality becomes a bigger part of our lives, scientists are now using it to study human behavior in real life. A growing body of research even tries to alter “real-life” behavior of apathetic groups through virtual experiences. Such is the case of Stanford University’s tree-cutting study, conducted in its Virtual Human Interaction Lab. By immersing people in a virtual reality environment and asking them to cut down a tree, the researchers, Sun Joo Ahn and Jeremy Bailensonto, had managed to alter people’s behavior in the real world: people started to recycle paper on a regular basis. According to Sun Joo Ahn:

“When people are in virtual reality and going through the motions of actually cutting down this tree, it might make them feel more personally accountable or responsible for the damage that occurred.”

This goes to show that if there’s a will there’s a way. The hardest part is to make people care. Only when you master that, can you expect change.

Photo: pixabay.com

About “Lurking Beyond the Horizon”

In this blog, I will discuss issues which are expected to affect our lives in the foreseeable future. I will focus on societal-cultural-demographic-political-economic changes and trends, which are bound to change the world as we know it; which are bound to change us. My goal is to (attempt to) understand why and when did we stop caring about certain things; what happened to us; what awaits us, and what does it take to change the inevitable consequences of our current indifference.

#When did we stop caring?
 #Are we less empathetic than past generations?
 #What does it take to start caring?


Originally published at lurkingbeyondthehorizon.blogspot.de.