Apathy and the Living Dead

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Apathy and the Living Dead

It’s nothing to die; it’s frightful not to live. - Victor Hugo

The word “Apathy” has its origin in Greek and literally means "without feelings." Isn’t that a description of the dead? That was what Victor Hugo was referring to when he wrote, "It’s nothing to die; it’s frightful not to live." In other words, we should not be afraid of dying, but not living. The apathetic are alive, but without feelings, so they are not living. They are the living dead.

Here’s what the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm (1900-1980) had to say about the subject, "... In the 19th century the problem was that God is dead; in the 20th century the problem is that man is dead ..." He calls apathy a problem for a good reason. It is a double-edged sword that wounds both the apathetic and the society in which they live. For example, although nuclear weapons cannot destroy democracy, voter apathy can! Such is the horrific negative power of apathy. As the world’s leading democratic country, The U.S., prepares to go to the polls, voter turnout is expected to be about 36%. Wouldn’t you call that a wakeup call?

What is the cause of apathy? It is often frustration and a sense of powerlessness that causes people to withdraw from life. However, the ultimate cause is their attitude, the way they react to the changing world. Let’s take a look at a specific example.

Jan has recently learned that her company has been bought by another company. Within a month, she and her coworkers will learn who among them will be hired by the new company and who will lose their jobs. Overnight their sense of security has been shattered. They are experiencing apprehension and frustration. They feel that they have lost control over their lives. They complain and disengage from activity. "If the company doesn’t care about me, why should I care about it? What’s the point of working when I’m probably going to lose my job anyway?"

This is an example of worker apathy. The staff has been reduced to a bunch of zombies. No one is doing their job. They are just putting in their time until that fateful day when they learn whether they have a job in the new company. There is one exception, however. And that is Jan. She is different. She has a different attitude and is living proof that apathy is not caused by events, but by our reaction to events.

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