Who Cares?

March 1, 2022

Who really cares anyway? Well, everyone in fact. We all care. At least we all strive to care. Every one of us tries to fill our lives with more things to care about. Isn’t that kind of the whole gist of this ride? 

When we have more to care about, our life has more meaning, it’s more rewarding and fulfilling, more enriching. We all seek out more opportunities to care, even when caring about something leads to the very real possibility of being hurt. 

Call it love, pride, care or concern- we all seek to experience these emotions, we crave them because they are central to the human experience. To truly not care, would be to lose our humanity. 

Caring is our default. It’s intrinsic to us. To not care is either to be hardwired wrong or to have ever so sadly, succumbed to decline. Apathy is the name we give to not caring and it is certainly on the rise. 

I don’t believe for one moment that people are any less inclined to care today than they were a generation ago, or ten or one hundred generations ago. We have the same brains as our ancestors, we have the same values, we function the same. It’s only the surroundings that have changed. 

People don’t care less today because they are somehow lacking. They care less because there is less to care about. It has become easier not to care. Apathy wasn’t a decision anyone made, but like the frog in the boiling water, it just kind of crept up. 

Apathy is easy, but what’s easy and what’s best, rarely share a bed. It’s the easiness of apathy that makes it so alluring. You literally can just do nothing and voila, apathy! It applies to everything too. Stop maintaining your home, it gets dirty, it starts falling apart, next thing you know, it doesn’t matter to you anymore. It’s not worth anything, it doesn’t make you proud and you cease to care. Same goes for your health. Stop exercising, pay no attention to what you eat and soon enough your won’t really care about your body. Your health will decline and your body won’t be of much use to you. Our relationships are subject to the same. Stop reaching out to a friend and over time, they may not be your friend anymore.  

The recipe for apathy is simple, do nothing, continue indefinitely. Eaaaaaaasssssy. 

Here is the big point. I may capitalize it. MAINTENANCE. It’s a must. Anything you stop maintaining declines. The dog, the bike, the spouse, the garden, the apartment, the shoes, the brain, the street, the block, the building, the downtown, the community. The universe tends towards chaos, things fall apart, maintenance is the only way to preserve order and stave off decline. 

On the whole, we have stopped maintaining a lot of the things that matter and it has bred some pretty rampant apathy. When you stop maintaining your scooter, it only affects you. When you stop maintaining your front porch, it affects your whole block. When you stop maintaining your downtown building, it affects the whole downtown. When you stop maintaining your downtown, it affects your whole community. 

That feeling of apathy that sets in when something you love falls into disrepair, that’s the feeling your whole community experiences when the downtown stops being maintained. The pride turns to apathy, the apathy turns to shame. The place that people once loved, the place that shaped residents life and provided them with a sense of identity, its nearly gone. 

We obsess over home improvement shows. We like to indulge the mind in what it might feel like to live in such lavish surroundings. We are fascinated by seeing a place transformed. Somewhere deep inside, it is immensely satisfying to see something improve. But I’ve got news for you though pal, all the jacuzzi tubs, shiplap walls, and Chesapeake Bay breakfast nooks don’t mean shit in a rundown town, or some subdivision hellscape. That pig got lipstick, a wig, some nails and fresh Lulus. 

We can’t lift up a town one kitchen renovation at a time. We all live in communities, we share our place with other people. Our home exists outside of our four walls as much as it does inside of them. The decline of our homes*** took place on a massive scale. 90% of our towns are in significantly worse shape today than they were 100 years ago. People don’t care as much about their towns today because there just isn’t as much to care about. 

Everything worth caring about was allowed to fall apart and then it was replaced with a bunch of vinyl bullshit that no one can care about. No one will, or is even capable of, loving the strip mall. It was designed without care, quality or concern. It cannot manifest the emotions that were lacking when it was constructed. We get out what we put in. 

It’s a sad state of affairs that people are more fired up about a tv bathroom remodel than their own hometown, but it’s not really a surprise. When we stopped caring FOR our communities, people stopped caring ABOUT our communities. 

But it’s not because people don’t want to care. They are desperate to care, but it’s harder to find reasons. The stone buildings were replaced with steel and glass. The locally owned businesses were subbed out for dollar stores. A sense of community, replaced with Facebook. The people for cars. Parks for parking lots. 

When I was in school in Richmond, the city was in a fight to keep its minor league baseball team. A friend from Montreal told me about the time the Expos asked for a new stadium, they sent them packing because Montreal would never define itself by sports. It was a city of great food, architecture, culture, parks, and all things people are passionate about. I have found this to be true in my own travels. Struggling communities appear to place a lot of value on their high school football team. While this isn’t ideal it proves something positive. People are desperate to place their pride somewhere and if they can’t in the community at large, they find another source. People want to care, they want to be proud. People need an outlet to invest their emotions outside of their home or job. 

Locals want to care. Their lack of care is only in response to the surroundings. We have to give them something to care about. City leaders must find ways to provide residents with reasons to get emotionally invested in the community. Too many people we have charged with shaping civic policy just don’t grasp this. Bankers and economic development officials break everything down to the numbers, but people are emotional and make decisions based on emotions. It needs to be about what we value and not just what’s cheapest. As municipalities have adopted a purely financial decision making model, they have left out emotions and left residents with nothing left to care about. 

It’s time we consider a new decision making model at the municipal level. When decisions come before council, mayors, city managers or department heads- there has to be a greater calculation than just “how much will this cost?” These individuals and entities should be asking themselves, will this make anyone proud? Will this project make people care? Will locals love their town more if we do this? 

The economics will fall into place. The budgets will be okay. Realize that emotional investment almost always precedes financial investment. People are desperate to care, they just need a reason to do so. City leaders, please give them that reason. 

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