- Mental Health
Apathy: There's a Time and a Place for It
Apathy is a growing problem in our society. However, by definition it does not in all cases translate into something negative. Its common meaning - uncaring - is the yin side of its nature; its yang has an alternate meaning that's as beneficial as its yin is detrimental to us as people and to society as a whole. Having no preference or being neutral prevents an overtaxing of the mind and emotions in some cases, just as being ambivalent is an acceptable feeling according to Fred Rogers in his book Many Ways to Say I Love You: Wisdom for Parents and Children.
To put it simply, whenever someone says "I don't believe in fairies," a fairy is said to fall down dead (in Peter Pan stories, at least). A more obvious metaphor for apathy would be if the same thing happened to the Care Bears whenever someone uttered the words "I don't care." The problem with that is that the phrase "I don't care" doesn't always indicate a lack of caring in the sense of emotional support. It can easily mean "I have no preference," if the question being asked is something like "What do you want to eat for dinner later?" Apathy can be deadly, but not when used in such an off-hand or common-place manner.
Perhaps that point was too obvious. I will also submit this: apathy can be an essential factor in staying sane. In today's world, we are too saturated with media and useless information to like or even pay attention to everything there is to experience. We each have to draw the line somewhere. Even if you have no reason to dislike something before you've tried it, you are less likely to try if you are too preoccupied with other options (especially those that are more familiar or worthwhile to you). It isn't always the case that you don't want to like it, but you just don't have the capacity for it. Just as you cannot spread yourself too thin with your time and/or money, you cannot care about everything there is out there in life. You would be stretching yourself emotionally, and that isn't sane. Godlike, yes, but for us mere mortals, it's a little beyond our capabilities (although those with more power to do so should care, as with great power becomes great responsibility).
I am not advocating apathy; I merely wished to point out that it is a part of life that counterbalances the caring that is intrinsic to the human spirit. There are people out there - in government, in business, everywhere - that do not care for their fellow human beings, only in the bottom line. If caring and apathy were measured on scales, they would be in need of serious recalibration. Just as ordinary people must give up some of the things they enjoy in life to stay afloat (though sanity is sort of iffy in this specific instance), so must they. No one is immune to apathy, for better or for worse. However, it is up to us as individuals whether we invoke the more positive application of apathy or the soul-crushing negative.