Overcoming “Apathy”

By: Matt Ryan

In a recent video I viewed on Ted.com, the author, Dave Meslin, makes a very simply and convincing argument for combating apathy. In this course, we are often faced with the harsh reality that many, if not most, people are simply disengaged with the inequities in our society. I think we find ourselves becoming frustrated with “the way things are,” but we seem rather hopeless and helpless in our pursuits to make real change. These are fair emotions, but they are not productive in reaching greater plateaus for our society. With that, this video argues that apathy is not how we view it. I think we often believe people simply do not care, but Meslin, and I tend to agree, argues that we do not set people up to care about important issues. This lesson is very important if we wish to change people’s mind and create collective action on issues.

The most memorable issue Meslin addresses is a situation in his hometown, Toronto. In the city magazine, there are different articles on restaurants, art fairs, and other cultural events. In these articles, there is always information regarding how one can visit or take part in the festival, or eat at the restaurant. In the political commentary, which addressed a sustainable issue important to Toronto’s operations, there is no information on how one can become involved. I think we would view this throughout society. We assume apathy out of people, so we do not take the basic steps to guide people to take action. To me, this is a social justice issue, or at least an important lesson to enacting social justice. If we expect people to address important issues, and to care about the world around them, we have to cultivate an environment in which people can easily feel empowered. Presently, we do not do this.

I think this issue can touch home here at SLU’s campus. Relating to how political events are promoted in Toronto is rather difficult, but Meslin’s message carries weight right here. I think if we really want to create a better world, our biggest challenge is to improve the community around us. Do we, at Saint Louis University, allow students to take part in our activities? Do we make them feel empowered in their student government elections? Do we promote events and engage students so that they will show up and possibly learn something? Or, do we catch ourselves assuming “nobody cares”, so we only cater to a few people. I find myself falling in this trap all the time. I find myself assuming people will not rally behind certain initiatives, so I do not take the steps to enact them. I think we need to view this differently.

People are not inherently apathetic. People care about issues that matter to them. The question is how do you make this clear. How do you engage people? Meslin’s video provides some inspiration. As agents of social justice, we need to be careful to fall in the trap where we just talk about things, but we do not actually engage others. Social justice is not a clique. It takes community action. This is the challenge, and the beauty, of public health.

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