Perils of indifference

THE news around us has been replete with bad scenes and renditions from natural disasters to murders to political negligence and incompetence to accidents and recently climate change. The truth is there seems to be no good news whenever we tune in to the platforms whether on the radio, on the television and even on social media. On Monday, I was reminded of this as I read an article condemning the houses of torture that have been discovered in Ibadan under the guise of religion. Numerous people have fallen victim. They are captured and taken to these homes for ‘rehabilitation’ when absolutely nothing is wrong with them and some of them are tortured to the point of becoming mentally ill and others to the point of death. Yet, these houses of torture have actually been in existence and people knew about them! Yet, nothing has been done until recently when the governor asked that it be shut down.

These stories are not just stories, they are the reality of those people that have fallen victim. Yet it is very easy to be indifferent to these stories.  Indifference is defined in the dictionary as unconcerned nonchalance or unemotional apathy. So many of us have become indifferent to the news. They have become just ‘stories’ that we hear. In fact, like someone pointed out on Twitter, unless it affects us personally we are unbothered by it. The reasons for this indifference varies. In some ways it has to do with the fact that we are all a bit selfish, more inclined to think about ourselves and how things affect us rather than how it affects others. Empathy and giving often have to be learned, they do not come easily to us. So in the same way once we become convinced that it has nothing to do with us then we dismiss it from our minds. It takes relearning to be able to pay attention and actually care. It takes a little bit more of humanity.

Another reason is that we have become desensitized. The numerous reports of bad news that we listen to day in day out somehow end up becoming normal. You do not experience the same shock when you, for the first time, for instance,  hear a loud bang, as you would the third or fourth time around. In a way your ears become used to the clanging noise that you sort of come to expect it. In the same vein, the bad news around us becomes a sort of normal once you listen to it everyday. It affects you less and less each day. There may even come a point where you will have absolutely no reaction to what you hear, in that sense, you are desensitized. The truth is that, it is easy to do that. It is easy to stop caring but we have a responsibility as fellow humans to care. And even though we may not be able to take action, our collective voices is a powerful force that shows our humanity in a world that is losing it.

LASG evacuates lion from private home to Lekki Zoo

Social media is another cause. On social media, it is so easy to see these memes and jokes out of very serious situations and to laugh at them. The jokes take the seriousness out of the news and makes it easier to somehow ‘accept’ the pain. It lessens the blow, yes, but it also makes it easier to not take it serious. For instance, when the news of a snake swallowing some millions of naira broke, Nigerians quickly found the fun in it. There were several videos and skits born out of that news that made it easier to forget exactly how serious it was. Similarly, because there is so much to joke about and turn a bad situation around, it is easier to block out the very bad news of death and crimes against humanity. It is our prerogative as a nation, as a society, as individuals to listen, to care enough, to do more.  In his speech given at the White House in 1999 titled “ The Perils of Indifference”, Elie Wiesel states that ‘to be indifferent to suffering is to lose one’s humanity’. Our humanity is very important, it separates us from other species. Our emotional intelligence and our ability to respond is a very huge part of who we are. To ignore the suffering of others, to dismiss their pain as just another daily occurrence is to lose our humanity. In matters of morality, we cannot choose to stay on the fence. In fact, to not take sides in issues of morality is in itself immoral. It is imperative that we listen, that we keep writing, we keep feeling and we keep caring, it means our very humanity.  So the onus is on us as a society, to be more open, more empathetic and avoid indifference.

Our Indifference may mean the loss of hope for those who suffer. It could mean more lives being lost. It is like Wiesel so eloquently persuades us to moral awareness by reminding us:  “ the hungry children, the homeless refugees – not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope, is to exile them from human memory”.