Tag Archives: Responsibility

What is it with people?

I moved apartments at the end of July and I now live an easy bike ride away from school. I often ride in the company of a friend who lives in the neighbourhood. As we rode in this morning, my friend asked, “What is it with people? Do they actually not care or do they really not look?”

It’s a good question, one that I ask of myself and of others with some regularity. Let’s explore further.

“What is it with people? Do they actually not care?”

Care is a verb. As I have written similarly about love and about giving, it is very important to understand this. Caring means acting in a way that is responsive to those around us. I actually disagree with the standard dictionary definition here, which suggests that caring is a feeling or an action.

A feeling is not enough. To care is a verb and verbs are actions.

We cannot claim to care if we then proceed to do nothing, though unfortunately I think this is often the case. I suspect that for many people, feeling is enough. A moment of pause in their own lives while they look in the general direction of someone else and then right back to normal. After all, how often do we hear, “I do care but I just can’t do anything about it”?

I think this is wrong.

Again, caring is an action. True caring requires something from us, some sort of participation that goes beyond personal acknowledgement of a situation. We don’t need to donate a kidney to the next person who walks by in pain, but if we claim to care about people, it’s not too much trouble to look them in the eye and genuinely ask, “How are you?”.

Interestingly, however, there is a lot of literature about “self-care” out there and we’re pretty clear what we mean in regards to ourselves. We do what makes us feel good because we want to do it. It only makes sense to apply the same to others, but we don’t stop to think about what others might need. We are too wrapped up in our own minds for that.

Do some people actually not care? Yes, I think that is the case. Care is one of those words we have thrown around and we have neglected what it actually means. We talk about it but we don’t act on it. This is a problem.

“What is it with people? Do they really not look?”

I know a lot of people who use “being busy” as an excuse for their myopia. The problem is that this excuse becomes our way out of interacting with anyone or anything not directly related to our personal wants and needs. We avoid looking because looking would mean that we have to do something. And if we turn away, who are we? We aren’t willing to go here.

Not looking is an active choice to disengage. This choice is indicative of indifference to those around us, and both history and life experience teach that indifference is at least as harmful as outright harm. Sometimes, people really don’t look. Sometimes, people really cannot be bothered. This is a problem.

Likewise, it is common to assume other people will look, perhaps people who better understand a situation or who have been around longer. The argument might go, “Perhaps I’m not the right person to get involved.” Well, why not? Who is? It is also easy to deny responsibility with excuses like, “It’s just not my place to intervene.” Well, what is your place? How would you like to be treated in this situation if roles were reversed? You are now culpable.

We could go down a rabbit hole of hypotheticals here and if we do that, the principle must remain. For instance, if you see a child drowning, do you jump in? Psychology would say that you’re more likely to act if you’re alone than in a crowd of people, but I think this one is pretty easy. Yes, you see the child and you jump in. Are other situations so different?

How do we fix this?

I admit that this post is largely negative and I’m sorry about that. My friend’s question on our ride to work really got to me because I really do try to make the world a better place. I really try to do the right thing and to be involved even when I’d rather not be. This is true in a variety of situations, from answering the phone call or message that will likely lead to a very late night to approaching an administrator when I have concerns about a colleague.

Doing the right thing matters.

How do we make the world a better place when people refuse to acknowledge that there’s anything amiss at all?

Here is what I can suggest:

  1. Decide what matters to you and live according to those principles. Become the person you uphold in your mind as a good person.
  2. Understand that everything you do is a choice and make choices based on your principles.
  3. Hold yourself and others accountable to what has been said and done. Ensure that what is done aligns with what is said.
  4. Treat people well. Think long and hard about what that means and act accordingly.
  5. Do the hard work to do the right thing because these are the things that matter.

For a long time, I’ve collected quotes that I’ve come across in any number of places. I don’t remember where I first read the motto of Jainism, but I think it fits well here. Allow me to close with that.

Parasparopagraho Jivanam – The function of souls is to help one another