Apathy: Learning It, Transcending It, and Positively Serving ‘The Other’

I’m going to take a leap here, and likely a very small one, and guess that if you have teenagers you’ve expereinced what I’m about to discuss. In one way or another, you’ve probably been on one side of this coin.

Over the last few weeks and months there have been many instances in the world of people speaking out in negative ways against other groups of people. High profile people along with simple cases that just caught the attention of media.

As is generally the case, I use a lot of what goes on in the world (or even in my small little world) as conversation starters for learning moments with my children. I spend a lot of individual time with them the weeks I have them, driving them back and forth to school. I cherish this time and I’m very lucky to have it. Here’s why…

A while ago we deemed our car rides were to be a ‘safe space’ where anything can be discussed without repercussion. The kids (or I) can talk about anything they want or need to and know that no matter how good, bad, or ugly it is, it’s safe and there will be no immediate consequences to sharing. It was my way of building in a forum for honesty, open sharing, and unconditional love for my kids.

As we as parents all know, lying is the root of all evil. It can cause so much more challenge, in an already challenging time of life. So anything I could do to try and help them (and myself, frankly) through these years of unnecessary untruths, I am willing to do. As I’ve said in previous posts, my children know that there will be no consequence to telling the truth…but lying, well, that comes with a price. But it’s a hard concept for them. They, I think, always feel like I’m tricking them into the truth…so it’s a slow process but I feel like we are a team working together for the betterment of man. Well, maybe just the betterment of us…but sometimes it feels bigger than just us!

For the last few weeks a lot of our discussions have floated around the subject of being better human beings. Better friends, better family members, better students, and better people in this world. This is not a new subject for my kids, I’ve been speaking in this way to them their whole lives. I believe at the core of my being becoming a kind and mindful human being starts when you’re very little with the teachings and actions of your parents.

I believe that it is our responsibility to take time, and not just a chat here or chat there, but real time UNTIL to teach our children what it means to be a good person. And when I say UNTIL…I mean forever. Forever and a day if that’s what it takes! And really, it’s not that hard.

There are so many examples in everyone’s life that can be put out for discussion and further dissecting to help them build on these qualities. There are moments every single day that can be conversation starters for teaching our kids. Some big, some little. Some ugly and some very beautiful.

BUT…and there’s always a but…

Sadly, I’ve come to a rough conclusion on certain aspects of these teachings. I’ve realized that one aspect of learning to be kind and mindful can be super challenging for kids and might possibly be the catalist for them growing up NOT being able to put this behaviour into action.

Specifically what I’m referring to is standing up for what you believe is right and good. It’s not really a hard concept and as adults we see it all the time. As in most societies, peoples’ lack of empathy can lead to many problems on both sides of the situation.

How many instances have we all read about where someone is being spoken harshly about, negatively about, and no one stands up to it? Many! How many times conversely have we heard people say ‘When you hear something disparaging, like a joke or even just gossip, stand up to it. Don’t tolerate it.’ Many!

I believe in this myself, we should speak out when other’s are speaking disparagingly. But I have also found myself in this situation many times in life and not said a word based on learned social constructs or acceptable social restraints. This has got me thinking, why??

Enter my son!

Without going into too many details, the simple car story goes, he has a friend, that friend is having trouble with being ‘bullied’. (Not a fan of that word, but for now let’s just stick with it). He has made several attempts to stand strong for his friend and stick up for her. He tells me he’s not being challenging in the way a fight would start, just trying to stop some pretty mean spirited words being said to this young girl.

I think as a parent we would all want to know that our children are making choices to be a good friend and help their friends in times of trouble. I am no exception. I am super proud of my child for what he’s doing. But I’m not going to lie, my first priority with my child is to ensure that he himself is not going to get into something more with this kid. Trying to find the space between praising him for standing up for his friend and cautioning him against get too far in the middle of something that isn’t his. (Weird, maybe. But this is entirely my point as you read along)

The story unfolds further…

In his attempts to stick up for his friend the situation has escalated. A few instances of back and forth…which ultimately the other day led to him being pushed down the stairs at school (backpack, chromebook, and even his teeth through his lip and all) by the child who’s being the ‘bully’. All just because he is standing up for his friend. (There were witnesses throughout the whole ordeal who confirmed no wrong doing on my child’s behalf (other than speaking up) and the situation was dealt with by the school).

So here’s where we land. The beef the kid has is not with my son (it’s not even a legit beef but just one young person, for whatever reason, trying to exercise control (negatively) over another), but my son is paying a price for standing up to this and trying to not allow it. So not only is the other child bullying a classmate, he’s physically challenging my son. One problem now turned into two. (This is how bullying becomes empowering, but that’s for another day)

The one problem has actually now turned into three. You see, what is now happening is my child is learning that there are consequences to ‘standing up for something’. He stood up for a friend —> He got hurt. And that’s a problem if we’re ever going to stop these kinds of bullying actions.

This is where my brain starts to run away with an idea.

We live in a society that has many kinds of people. A school is no different. It’s like a mini city. There’s popular kids, quiet kids, kids of all races, backgrounds, and beliefs. Empathetic kids, apathetic kids, emotional kids, combative kids and everything in between. It’s the same as any community, city or country out there. And of course, as we all know, put all of these social groupings together and as history would go, there’s bound to be some struggle.

So add all of this ‘struggle’ into the lives of our children (whatever category they may fall into) and top that with trying to teach them behaviors that will hopefully start building their tools to cope…and one can easily see how some efforts (in the right direction) might be thwarted by negative learning experiences.

Is it so hard to imagine that a lot of adults find it challenging to stand up to racism, negativity, bullying, or any other form of degrading commentary when, as kids, when they were first learning about this concept, their very first attempts to do so turned into highly negative ramifications for them? In trying to stop a bully, one starts to become bullied!! It only takes burning your hand on the stove once or twice before you learn the consequence of your actions. Could this not be the same?

If I stand up for this…something shitty is going to happen to me.

It’s absolutely true. Total learned behavior. And as a child, one who is far more likely to want to avoid harmful or adverse experiences than a adult, who’s more experienced in life and dealing with challenges, it is completely understandable that this would become something to avoid.

But then what happens??? Nothing good, that’s for sure.

What happens is that people at a young age can start becoming apathetic to many situations because no one WANTS to put themselves in harms way. People may want to do what’s right….but to what end? Is the backlash going to far outweigh the interference? (in this case, by far) And if no one is willing to stand up to it it simply decreases the amount of ‘road blocks’ a bully may face. Potentially empowering them further. It’s a pickle!

If no one ever stands up to people because of negative fallout, how will it ever stop?

My point here is that we learn many of our foundations in life from a very young age. We all have experiences, some better than others, some more horrifying than one can imagine. But the stage is set, very young, for what we’re willing to pursue into adulthood as far as our personal values go.

There are behaviors and emotional constructs that we learn as a child that will stick with us for a very long time, if not ever. So learning early-on in life that standing up for someone can have very negative implications can follow one far into adulthood.

The problem grows beyond that. We seem, as a society, to start to focus negativity on the person standing on the side lines – and somehow forget they’re not the root. They become the easier target in the situation because dealing with a ‘bully’ is difficult. So let’s focus on the people not standing up to it and bring some sort of shame or guilt to them. Not the solution!

How do we hold people accountable for not standing up to a bully more so than we hold the bully accountable? If you think about it, it’s mostly true. Just look at the Don Cherry and Ron McLean incident a while back. McLean took as much heat for not standing up to the comments Cherry made as Cherry himself. It’s a little skewed if you ask me. Should he have said something in that moment to possibly diffuse a situation that didn’t really need to be? Sure. But right, wrong or indifferent…he would have taken heat no matter WHAT he did because we’ve become a society all about blame, shame, and being offended.

Gone is the rational thought in dissecting a situation and coming at it from a solution-based opinion. Here to stay, or so it seems, is immediate offence, equally immediate un-tethered emotional response, and complete controversial/debating/non-solution-based opinion.

It appears to me when one stands up for something today they will be praised by the side of humanity that shares in the same beliefs…and they will be torn to shreds (or pushed down the stairs) by the side that doesn’t.

So what is one to do???

We really have become a society where we are dammed if we do and dammed if we don’t. It’s the root of the problem that is the root of the flipping problem, but we somehow have lost focus at times in that. So unfortunately people trying to do what’s right can get caught in just as much of a shitstorm as the person doing the wrong.

So in answering the question ‘what is one to do?’, well, I really don’t have the answer, like most people. But I believe there IS one out there. My wish in writing this was to simply put out there a reason (in my own words and thoughts) why so many people might be apathetic in life. I can see it becoming a ‘thing’ more and more. People being more apathetic and people being more judgmental towards that apathy without even consider why…or even considering that they are very likely the same way in certain forums. I think there are many discussions to be had.

Maybe we need to stop judging someone for what they are or aren’t doing? I wholeheartedly agree we SHOULD be standing up to ‘stupidity’…but in doing so how do we protect ourselves from emotionally immature repercussions? I think we need to stop judging others (whatever side they are on) and start putting some long hard focus into ourselves. Asking ourselves ‘If we’re judging someone else’s lack of response or defense, what are WE doing to make anything better?’, ‘What are our children doing in their social circles?’, ‘How can we protect people who stand up for the wrongs in life?’, and ‘If we can’t protect them, how the fuck can we expect them to do it in the first place?’.

If we can’t really answer any of these questions, we really don’t, or shouldn’t, feel free to have an opinion. This is basic stuff. But totally not the way the world rolls.

I want to tell my son he’s doing the right thing by standing up for his friend, and he IS. But I don’t want him to get hurt in the process. So how does one navigate through that? (I’m legitimately asking!!)

The long and short of it is, like any other post written on any topic that involves humanity, we just all need to be better people. We all need to look at life in service to others. When we give of ourselves in beautiful ways to the betterment of others, we are better ourselves. To take away from someone else is to take away from your own self.

Teach your kids to be kind because no matter what you think, conspiracies, bullshit, racism, religious wars, cultural wars, etc. etc. someday they are going to need someone to be kind to them. Teach them to not have expectations of others…but only expectations of themselves. Because we are only in control of ourselves. Knowing this, living this, teaching this, BEING this, is where is begins. And maybe ends!

As for what I will tell me son. I will always tell him to continue to be a friend, stand up for his friends, love his friends. If ramifications occur, we will discuss them in our ‘Car Talks’ and we will deal with them. But try to avoid negative, unnecessary ramifications. Try to use mindful words to defuse a situation, don’t use hurtful words which will escalate it. If you feel it escalating, disengage. Walk away. Take your beautiful sweet friend and simply walk away. But mostly, try and hold onto the idea that standing up for what’s right is what we all should do.

If you have thoughts or opinions or real life stories to share, please do so. Sharing is learning. Learning is growing. Growing is evolution.

2 thoughts on “Apathy: Learning It, Transcending It, and Positively Serving ‘The Other’

  1. The older my kids get, the more they understand the concept of the truth and standing their grounds. To the point, their teachers find it difficult not to be intimidated, not only their intellect, but also their wisdom at such young ages (16, 12, 10 and 6). Because that’s exactly how they’re being raised! We have those same conversations. We just have them at all times. My friends, other adults, parents, etc, are all intrigued by their conversation, to include my 6 year old. The world is cruel and I feel sorry the world, once they step foot out of our village into it. Keep up those conversations! You’re doing a damn good job with preparing them for it.

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    1. Thank you so much! Having conversations with our kids, at ALL ages, is imperative. And I don’t mean just talking to them about bunnies and building blocks. I’ve always spoken to my children in a more mature way, never baby-talked, and never shied away from difficult conversations like death and life. I think if we don’t start helping them find their own wisdom at a young age, we’re doing them a disservice! ❤

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