The Road to Apathy

January 6, 2022

Apathy is not something, but the lack of something. It is not a negative concern, but no concern at all. Apathy isn’t an emotion, but the absence of one. An emotion would be better- if people were angry about a thing, at least they would be giving a shit about said thing.
But apathy is the lack of giving a shit. I would take an angry, resentful and frustrated population over an apathetic one a thousand times over. When people are pissed, at least they care.
But when the care goes away, what’s left? How do we convince people to resist when they aren’t upset? When there is nothing worth saving and nothing left to protect, how do we inspire?
We must give people something to care about.
The residents of your town didn’t collectively up and decide not to care anymore. No one called a meeting and voted to do away with concern. They adjusted, they acquiesced, they acclimated. Over time, brick by falling brick, they adjusted to their surroundings, and those surroundings bred apathy. What once was unacceptable, slowly became acceptable as rooftops sagged and sidewalks buckled.
Apathy slips in through the cracks that don’t get repaired. People don’t care about things not worth caring about. In other words, we don’t care about the things that aren’t cared for.
The road to hell might be paved with good intentions, but the road to apathy isn’t paved at all. To put in another way, the most surefire way to achieve apathy, is simply a lack of maintenance. Stop maintaining your house and you won’t care about it anymore. Stop tending to your relationships and you won’t care about them anymore. Stop taking care of yourself and you won’t care about yourself anymore. It’s super easy too, but what’s easy and what’s best rarely make for good bedfellows.
Residents of your town stopped caring for your town, because your town was no longer worth caring for. We can be honest about this. Your town probably doesn’t deserve anyone’s affection. Is it nice, is it pretty, does it make people feel good, is it in great condition? No? Then what do you expect?
Those beautiful stone buildings that people once loved have been chucked in a landfill and swapped out for surface parking. Those locally owned businesses that people invested so much pride in have been supplanted by vinyl strip malls hocking cheap plastic crap and cardboard food. A peaceful stroll down a pretty street, filled with friends and neighbors, replaced by a fitful car ride across town to acquire more stuff from a soulless chain.
In your city, people didn’t make a decision not to care- they lost all the things worth caring about. When we opted to replace the local economy with the sprawl economy, we replaced all the things that mattered with all the things that don’t.
No one cares about subdivisions, strip malls or national chains. They are ugly, disposable, generic and meaningless. They are impossible to feel concern for, it’s built into the formula. They leave us empty and wanting. They provide us with an experience that no one desires, yet remains a necessity.
What we think of as the ultimate community improvement conundrum, “how do we get people to care about places not worth caring about”, is really no conundrum at all. To get someone to feel, we have to provide them with something worth feeling for.
Apathy isn’t a permanent state, but the temporary absence of concern. Breath easy friend, people want to experience care and feel concern. It is within our very nature to grow attached and to feel proud. We do not have to alter the human condition as it is fairly set, we must adjust our surroundings.
When we start sealing those cracks, we find we are able to keep apathy out. We may have lost the fight to save some of those buildings and businesses, but we can work our asses off not to lose another. We can repair what we still have and start the process of replacing what was lost. There is zero reason a city can’t provide residents with surroundings they can be proud of once again.
Pride is the only means we have in which to combat the catastrophic effects of apathy. Nothing else will suffice. No grants, no planning, no public input, no external validation, no economic development victory will instill within people a sense of pride.
My sister tells the story of a student lounge being trashed one weekend at the college where she teaches. When discussing what to do, the consensus amongst faculty was to replace the damaged items with those of lesser quality, therefore reducing the cost of repairs when inevitably being trashed once again. The dean disagreed and here was his thinking. In making the lounge worse, isn’t the school giving students permission to care about it even less? Wouldn’t this invite more of the same behavior? Instead he insisted, the college should invest in upgrading the room and make it as nice as possible. Students will take pride in their new surroundings and in having something nice, they will care for it themselves. Students will respond as people always do, by taking care of something worth caring for. By tending to what makes them proud.
Apathy doesn’t respond to lower standards and we can’t combat its effects by giving people fewer reasons to feel concern. Give people something to care about. Give them a chance to rise to the occasion. Let residents feel proud. Provide them with a chance to walk down the street and experience a sense of dignity. Give them a place that reflects how they SHOULD feel and not how they CURRENTLY do.
The road to apathy is full of potholes, but the road to pride is incessantly maintained.

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