Seven things to do to stop yourself from falling into the ‘indifference’ trap

Have your children become insensitive because of all that’s happening around you?

We live in unprecedented times’ — how often do we hear this these days? The phrase has been abused, and I risk repeating it at the cost of sounding cliche.

‘Death’, as in Emily Dickinson’s poem, is stopping by, whether or not someone stops for it. It has proved to be an avid traveller and travels quicker than the speed of light. It is travelling countries, making multiple stopovers in the same locality, same street and even the same house. It shows no favouritism towards age or gender or colour of skin or wealth or fame. And yet, it doesn't appear very objective when it takes more from one and nothing from another or leaves someone old behind and takes someone younger.

But that’s not what I want to talk about here — not about physical loss but the slow death of the spirit of humanity. With things spiralling out of control and death assuming proportions that one had not fathomed, have we started building a fortress around us to safeguard ourselves and our families from the onslaught by news through television, newspapers and mobiles? Are we turning our back to it and a deaf ear because ‘Ignorance is bliss.’ What you do not know cannot hurt you.

I understand not wanting to talk about something so morose as death or pain. What is the point of discussing it when there is nothing you can do about it? I appreciate those who refuse to indulge in it or use it as a mere time-filler; for conversation sake. Why discuss it when it's not doing you or anybody else any good unless you've been deeply impacted and want to shed the load?

Are you one of those for whom Death is a mere statistic? Answer this question honestly. Have you, your children become numb to the daily news of violence, death, destruction? If the answer is ‘Yes,’ then it’s time you pinch yourself awake, for there is no greater malaise than indifference.

Indifference may be the most significant disease that the future faces.

While we’re busy discussing being unable to play host anymore to the virus, about the absence of cremation space, our furnaces smelting, the shortage of vaccinations, and the very air we take for granted becoming unavailable, we may have ignored the footprint of apathy the pandemic is leaving behind on our minds and more dangerously on impressionable minds.

Indifference and insensitivity are two sides of the same coin- they are weeds that need little to grow and, if ignored, have the power to stifle the flame that spurs humanity to action. If we do not look out, then ten, five or two years from now, we will face an entire generation of individuals for whom death is something that happens and must be accepted. Nothing wrong with that, you may say, because death is as much a reality as birth. True, if these individuals feel the same when they’re at the receiving end. However, if this is not the case, there’s no word for it other than ‘Selfishness.’ We need to save ourselves from becoming immune to all that happens around us. The world is in danger of being destroyed, and all we need is ‘indifference’ to trip it ultimately.

We cannot afford to have a generation of self-centred, cold individuals who are not passionate about making a difference, about going the extra mile.

I am not a psychologist. I am a mother of teenagers, and I am worried that the constant news of despair and hopelessness may make my children complacent. With news of death, terrorist attacks, the pandemic, every child born in the twenty-first century have been exposed to dark, distressing news than any of us born in the twentieth century. It is then only natural for these children to safeguard themselves by turning away. Some who don’t turn away immediately may go through the stages of sorrow, hope, hopelessness, and finally, indifference.

A discussion with my daughter confirmed my belief. She was open enough to tell me what she thought about what was going on- ‘It’s a lost cause,’ she said, shrugging her shoulder. I was disappointed but not shocked. I am sure she is not the only one who feels like this, but others may not be as forthcoming as her. My response to her was, “If everybody thought the way you do, then doctors, nurses, soldiers, wouldn’t be risking their lives every day, or nations wouldn’t be pitching in to help other nations.” I read from her face that my response hadn’t convinced her. Hence, I spoke to her about ordinary people like her and me, who were making a difference- there’s a section in the newspaper called ‘Beacon of hope,’ which talks about people who’re going out of their way to help people. It’s tucked inside, after pages and pages of dreadful news. After I’d shared this with her, I didn’t press further. As a teen, she is entitled to have an opinion of her own. Though I was glad that we had talked, I was worried. I hoped I had been able to reach her and warm her heart which was at the risk of becoming frigid. A few days later, she came back to me and said, “You were right the other day. I have become indifferent. All of this stopped making sense to me, but I am going to make a conscious effort to change that.” I rejoiced.

I had lost three members of my family — my father, my uncle and my grandmother in a span of two months, six months ago. My world had gotten smaller. It didn’t surprise me the way she had processed the losses. And I was glad we had spoken. I hoped it made a difference and would stop her from reeling down in the black hole of indifference. As a parent, I took it as a personal victory that I had managed to save my daughter from falling into the trap. I am well aware, however, that ‘concern’ is a sapling that needs to be tended until it bears solid roots and that ‘indifference’ is a mould that can spread without assistance. The onus of taking care of the sapling lies with the parents. I remembered a conversation with my father a few months before he passed away. He was worried about the Palestinians. I wondered why he should care so much when he was so frail, but the concern in his voice when he said, “It shouldn’t happen to anybody, an entire lifetime fighting for your country and seeing no hope,” stirred something in me and is something that I can’t help thinking of now. It’s important to look beyond you. It matters. If not for anything else, it makes you appreciate what you have and feel for those who don’t.

It’s crucial to care. It’s what makes the heart beat with passion. My personal experience and subsequent conversations with friends have led me to write this post.

To make sure that children continue to care enough to make a difference, grow up to be adults whose spirits burn with conviction to fight for what is right and not look away from pressing issues, I believe parents, caregivers, teachers must do the following :

  1. Share- not only the bad news but also the good news- talk about people who are beacons of light in this harsh climate.
  2. Ask for their opinion- Discuss with the children what they feel about what’s going on. Probe if they are unwilling to talk. Do not be scared of the expression in their eyes that reads, ‘Death happens. There’s nothing we can do about it.’ Let them know that it’s not natural for someone to die without oxygen. Ask them, ‘What do you think is going wrong?’ ‘How could you in your way make a difference?’
  3. Talk, talk, talk- A friend told me that she was shocked when her twelve-year-old said that it wouldn’t bother him if anything happened to grandpa or grandma because so many younger people were dying. I told her it was a good thing she had spoken to him and a good thing they had a relationship that allowed him to share what he felt without shame or fear. If you find your child indifferent, talk. The problems before our children are far too overwhelming for them to get their head around. They find it easy to be indifferent. Talk to them about people in the past, the present, who did not sit back when they could but fought to make a difference. The best place to begin is History. Celebrate those in the past who made a difference to humanity. Tell the children that we would not be where we are today if people were indifferent then.
  4. Light the flame of faith- Amidst all that’s happening, it’s easy to lose faith, to question the existence of God. An acquaintance sent me a video recently that answered this question on faith and the current situation perfectly. It spoke about the current situation as one where the negative outweighs the positive. To overturn this and bring back the world to where we were, we would need to increase the positive energy to an extent where it outweighs the negative. It spoke of increasing the positive energy through meditation, sharing positivity, or doing anything that helps another person.

5. Celebrate good deeds done — a smile, a hug, a listening ear, giving to a cause, being kind. Like they say, ‘Charity begins at home.’ See how they can help those less blessed, like the domestic help, the housekeeping staff in the building. Whatever you do, teach children not only to talk about a problem but to take action- do something tangible that makes a difference to somebody who’s not privileged enough.

6. Discuss the things you’re grateful for - things like your beating heart, which you take for granted, for the time that you’ll have got together, the fact that you have each other, which is far better than being completely alone. Talk about it in the context of those who have lost. Use the pandemic to make them feel for others rather than letting them become unfeeling.

7. Change perspective — There is no reason to complain as long as you and your family are safe. Safety is currently everybody’s primary concern. Someone I spoke to recently told me that their friend was worried that her daughter had not left for University because of the pandemic. I understand studying online, not being able to go to university, experience college life is not the best thing (my daughter’s been doing online studies too), but to be so seriously concerned about it, when all around you is news of death, is something I find hard to digest—not going on an end of a year college trip, not having a prom (which both my girls belonging to the 2020 batch did not have) are minor irritants, not life-altering events. Being alive is a gift in these times. Ask a person who was there during the war. He’ll tell you that, We are at war.

It’s not just the children for whom we need to have this conversation. It’s us, too- the adults who think we’ve figured it out. The pandemic has shaken our core, and we must revive our spirits. Never before in our lives has the world come to a standstill, and hopefully, it never happens again. We need to use this time to become a better version of ourselves — whether that means becoming fitter, learning something new or spreading positivity; it’s up to us.

But When this is all over, and if you were fortunate enough not to have lost anyone close to you, you will celebrate. I only request that when you do, be mindful that not everyone around you is coming out of this unscathed. Be sensitive. Remember, to care enough. And remember, kindness is contagious.

Don’t wait for someone else to make a difference. Be the one to do it.

It’s easy to crib. Take the difficult path- help others see the light.

After working in the banking industry for two decades, I quit in 2018. I am currently a stay-at-home mom who enjoys writing, art, nature, travel and reading

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