The United States of Apathy
And what we can do about it.
Last Saturday, I was waiting in line to order a Nutella crepe when one of the two young women sitting at a table right next to me exclaimed and said to her friend (I assume they’re friends), “Hey! There was a shooting this morning at a Synagogue!”
To which, the friend looked up from her phone and said, “oh… (looked back down on her phone and then said) Oh my God, they’re so cute!” and offered her phone to the first young woman to look at what appeared to be a photograph of a couple.
I couldn’t help peeking because honestly, I was confused. I wasn’t sure how a shooting at a synagogue ended up with “how cute” practically in one breath.
As I kept listening in, the conversation changed quickly to another cute photo, this time of a dog’s.
The whole thing, starting from the first young woman mentioning the shooting to the two of them going gaga over the dog, happened within a span of maybe a little over 45 seconds.
Soon it was my turn to order, and while doing so, I waited for the topic of their conversation to go back to the shooting.
But it never did. The two had already finished eating and were gone before I took my first bite of the Nutella crepe.
The whole thing was so bizarre that I wasn’t even angry or upset, not right then at least. I ate my crepe, tried to play out the scene in my head a couple of times to make any sense out of it, and when I couldn’t, I started to feel anger well up inside of me. Finally.
But before I could fully bask in the glory of self-righteousness, I realized that that morning, after I saw the news, and then read the story, and then breathed a sigh of relief at knowing it wasn’t a Muslim or an Arab or a black or a brown individual who opened fire, and then mulled over the fact that the people of this country were going more and more nuts every day… after all of that, I then went back to reading Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami.
“Oh Shit…” I thought.
It’s so easy. Charleston happened a little over three years ago. And now this. Between June 2015 and October 2018, we saw some of the most atrocious things occur in this country. We are so tired of being shocked and outraged and devastated that there’s just no room for any more “shock” these days.
Our subconscious is always busy trying to shield us from that which causes distress. Apathy is perhaps born out of a necessity to adapt, and thus, protect our sanity.
Our brains are little tricksters, I tell you!
But what happens when we adapt to all sorts of crazies, so much so that the shootings and killings of innocent people leave us with an “oh”?
Not everyone adapts. The “woke” so to speak, have managed to stay focused and outraged at the same time; not an easy feat. We’re not all conditioned to be the same way. Privilege is the kind of thing that when you have it, you want to stay there. Nobody willingly steps away from party-town to walk into the valley of darkness.
Maybe we should.
But first, baby steps.
Let’s Get Out of This Funk And Remind Ourselves What’s Normal And What’s Not
The times we live in are not normal, and we need to be aware of it every single day. People may tell you to shut off the news outlets from your life because “it’s too depressing.”
That’s the worst advice ever.
The least we can do is be aware. What happens when we give in to apathy because the reality is too depressing? We say dumb shit like “oh” when someone finally brings it to our attention that an atrocity has been committed.
“Blissful ignorance” was never a smart move. You can choose to be ignorant and dumb, or you can decide to smarten up. Wisdom and intellect come at a cost. Especially in times like the ones we live in now. But the alternative is akin to letting go of our humanity. And don’t even try to tell me otherwise. The day we stop feeling anything even when innocent people are killed, we’ve lost our humanity and we’ve successfully objectified other humans.
That’s no way to live.
But the process of woke-ness has to start with us. We need to fix ourselves first. We need to realize party-town was always an illusion and we’re in fact already inside the dark valley. Might as well open our eyes nice and wide and take note of our surroundings. That’s the only way to not only survive, but survive with our humanity intact in this valley.
Let’s Not Let Our Friends Become Fools
I commend the young lady who had some reaction last Saturday. There was some shock there. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have mentioned the shooting in the first place.
But then her friend had to go and distract her with cute photos.
And there went her humanity down the drains.
Let’s switch that scene around.
When we see something and say something, and our friends choose to shut their eyes and pretend we’re in Disney Land, let’s grab their shoulders and give them a good shake (OK, maybe don’t actually get physical, but don’t let the conversation end!). Wake them up! The world as we knew it is ending, in more than one way. Refusing to wake up helps no one.
If you’re woke, make sure your friends are woke too. Talk to them, help them understand why it’s dumb to pretend the world is all nice and well, because it’s NOT!
Eventually, we’re all going to have to face reality. And by letting our friends stay in pretend-land, we’re only making things worse for them. The longer they remain in self-imposed slumber-land, the harder it will be down the road.
Let’s change that.
We Need to Be Friends With People Who’re Not Like Us
One of the most significant problems with America is that while it’s one of the most diverse places on Earth, people still seem to hang with their own kind. Can you believe that there are actually people who’ve never even spoken to a Muslim? For God’s sake, there are about 3.5 million of us in this country!
We should all try and be friends with people who do not look like us, who do not pray to the same God, or at least do not perceive God the same way we do. If you do not believe in a God, make friends with people who do. If you do believe in a God, make friends with those who do not.
If you’re straight, go hang at a gay club and make a friend or two.
If you’re Asian, make sure you’re not hanging out with ONLY other Asian people. (I’m South Asian, and I see this in my community so much it’s sick! Like… why are you even in this country, the so called melting pot, if you’re only hanging with those who look exactly like yourself? This makes no sense!)
If you’re White, as the predominant race, it’s your duty to reach out to the minorities. It’s much harder for a person belonging to the minorities to reach out to the powerful majority. So, step up your A game and reach out. You’ve got work to do!
Educate Yourself and Your Friends
Knowledge is key! Finger pointing is easy, but I believe at the core of our apathy lies a persistent lack of knowledge. I say persistent because for the majority of Americans, you have to persistently shy away from learning about those who’re different from you. I mean, I was born and raised in a different country where everyone else was like myself, and yet, now I know more about those who look different from me, speak a different language, have different philosophical and theological ideas and values, than does your average American.
That’s just crazy!
Make sure to read and educate yourself. And then try to educate those around you. Do not be arrogant. Stay humble and try to engage in meaningful dialogues.
Try and change the world around you a little at a time.
If you’re a US citizen, the easiest baby step should be to get your ass off the couch and vote! Even if you think you don’t have a lot of choices, you should still vote! Even if your candidates seem like they don’t differ much from one another, still, you need to vote.
Voting is how you remind those in power that in a democratic society, these politicians in power are the ones who work for you. They SERVE you. But you need to do your part to make sure they remember who they serve. Otherwise, these politicians tend to get over their heads.
And when they forget who they serve, they stop serving.
Even if you do not like your candidates, vote just to make sure they know who’s the boss here.
Like I said, baby steps.
We all need to start somewhere. Let’s start with these 5 things that we can do as soon as today!
OK, maybe it’s going to take a few days to find friends who do not look like you, do not believe in the same values that you do, or do not even speak the same language that you do.
But you know what we all can do as soon as TODAY?
Make a pledge to ourselves to not give in to ignorance and apathy. Let’s pledge to stay woke. If something bad happens, let’s not switch the channel. Let’s read the news and watch the news. And let’s get our news from multiple sources so as to make sure we’re not allowing just one outlet to manipulate how we think.
Media is not the enemy of the people, but it’s mighty, and in wrong hands, it can do terrible things. So, it’s our responsibility to fact-check, read, learn, and use our heads to come to a conclusion, as opposed to having others tell us how to think.
Let us all start doing the thinking for ourselves.
Let’s start seeing this place as it is. It’s a dark and scary valley, not a party-town. And it’s up to us to make sure we do all we can to make the best of it.
And we can only do that with our eyes wide open.