Well, today begins my new series with the word that started to plant the idea into my head in the first place. I wanted to talk about things that are huge parts of our lives, but we simply don't talk about them. Metaphorical four letter words more than literal ones. Some you may know and experience intimately, others not, but I feel they are things that need talking about. They are issues that need addressing in our homes, churches, communities and in society as a whole. I'm a firm believer in saying out loud what we find wrong in our own lives. If we can do that very small thing, we can start to fix it.
So, for the first word. I began to see it more in the news last year that I had in probably the first 30 years of my life. I began to hear it in conversations. But even more than that, I began to notice it gradually creeping into places that had seemed immune to it. It's something that appears to be extremely prevalent in the news, but the general consensus regarding how to fix it seems to be a massive shoulder shrug.
What is it? I'll give you a hint. It comes from the Greek word ἀπάθεια, which means "without emotion".
When I searched for apathy on Google News, I got almost 16,000 results in 0.31 seconds. Examples included voter apathy, relationships between Brits and their banks, vaccination levels in rich and poor countries, and the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
But what is apathy? A dictionary would say that apathy is indifference or plain ol' not caring. In the middle ages, they assigned it a different word as one of the seven deadly sins: Sloth. I always assumed that Sloth was being lazy, but maybe they had an insight into it that I don't. After World War I, the term was used for people who had a type of shell-shock. To me, that's an excellent representation of how I feel sometimes. The Greeks apparently thought apathy was an admirable quality, and to be completely dispassionate about everything meant you weren't being ruled by "base" desires like love or fear.
I guess the Greeks and I are going to disagree. I quite like being ruled by my base desires, but I can admit this freely: apathy is easier. In fact, it is so easy that it requires no effort at all. That's probably why I feel it often creeping into my daily life.
Instead of feeling pity for the homeless guy on the the street or anger that he won't get a job, I just feel nothing. Feeling nothing means I can just walk by without feeling good or bad about myself or him or the things that connect us.
Instead of feeling fear that Ebola is going to wipe out whole communities in Africa and make thousands of orphans, I start to feel nothing. I could feel pity or despair, but instead, I feel nothing.
I see the situation in the Middle East, and apathy is so much easier. I can separate myself from that situation completely. Sure, I see that people are dying, but they aren't necessarily dying next to me, and I've got lots of problems of my own. Someone else will figure it out.
I saw a Jimmy Buffett t-shirt once with the following quote:
I'm afraid that we've reached a critical mass as people, specifically Christians, where apathy is concerned. The world around us, and the love we profess to deeply know and understand, requires us to care, to be the opposite of apathetic.
A little secret between you and me? That [insert real four-letter word] is exhausting. Some days I just want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head and hide from all the loving and all the caring. I want to leave life, become Amish or something, and take a vacation from caring about things.
I want to be apathetic. Because deep down, I know I really can't. I've been shown crazy, abundant, over-involved, apathy-crushing love. By numerous people. By friends and family and the created universe itself, which sometimes seems to be telling me: "Look at how bright the moon is and how messy the sea is and how warm the sun is on your face. I love you."
Helen was right. Science hasn't found a tablet we can take to kill our apathy, but for me, faith is the best remedy I've found. I feel love washing over me at times, and I know that someone is thinking of me or praying for me, or God is just looking down and reminding me that I matter. People aren't apathetic about me, so in turn, I have a deep longing to love others.
Maybe you feel apathy creeping in sometimes? I'm pretty sure it's as normal as anger or fear. I like the way Paul tells us to fight apathy: