It would be easy not to care about anything, not having to worry about people, places or plans. We could become completely hedonistic and do whatever we felt all of the time. While this is an ideal situation for a many, I believe that people do care about something even though they are blissfully unaware. Curious to see what the RIT community had, or didn’t have, to say about apathy and empathy, I conducted a
I sat at a table for a couple of afternoons in the Student Alumni Union with a slightly crooked, handwritten sign that read: “Tell me: Why should I care?” My intention was to incite responses from passersby. This included students, staff, faculty and even prospective parents. The following is a combination of direct quotes from participants and commentary based on my experience.
Tuesday, October 13
I have noticed a general attitude of apathy on campus and throughout our generation entirely. There are countless social, political, economical and moral issues that aren’t being confronted by people our age. Those who are standing up for a cause or injustice are few compared to the masses walking by in avoidance. I want to see if people can contradict this notion and possibly enlighten me, and hopefully themselves, in the process.
My first responses, after commandeering an empty table, were warm smiles and occasional second glances. About ten minutes into my session, I welcomed my first active participant. Tish Ciaccio, who works in Student Affairs, told me that I should care about, “the future because we have to leave a world for our children. What we do now will affect how they live their lives.” I then received fleeting statements from faculty like “It’s the right thing to do” and “Because you’re a good person.” I was excited to have responses, but I noticed that many people believed that we had an obligation to care but could not explain where the notion stems from.
Students consistently ignored me as they walked by, feigning attention to their cell phones or generally avoided eye contact. After getting a few awkward giggles over a period of 20 minutes, a student finally approached my table. Fernando Matos-Faro, a fifth year Biology major, decided to comment on RIT. “The weather is shit, but the people are good. You need to find something that appeals to you and find people that share common interests. Participate in the community so you can better the surroundings. Obviously you need to have fun. Toss back some beers. But we’re here for our future in the end, to get a job.” The future seemed to be the theme, but does that mean that we should not care about what happens in the present?
As time progressed, I encountered a few people who told me that they would get back to me. I was pleased that at least they were thinking about my question. Some people talked to me without addressing the sign at all. The laziest responses were when people felt that they were clever for countering my question with another. It was a half step above walking by and giggling but just as unsatisfying.
Ryan Duffy, a third year Business student, surprised me with his response. He started his speech 15 feet away from my table, but was encouraged to come closer by a staff member. Duffy rationalized that, “Everyone cares about money and happiness. If people didn’t care, there wouldn’t any be any narcissists. . . If there was a devoid of emotion, we would be at equilibrium and would exist to exist. We would be missing the meaning of life.”
For the rest of the afternoon, people told me specific causes to care about ranging from children on leashes, to themselves, to better communication accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing students. Graduate Glass Sculpture student Karen Donnellan’s comment left me looking forward for the following session. “You need to care because what you do and think manifests [itself in] everything around you.”
Wednesday, October 14
The next day, I took my post at a vacant table in the SAU, sign and notebook in tow. After a few minutes, I received a defeatist reply. A student walking by said, “You shouldn’t [care]. Just give up,” all with a grin. Melanie Brown-Lane, a second year Hospitality major, then utilized my free chair and asked if she could tell me why I shouldn’t care. I told her to go ahead and she argued that, “You shouldn’t care because when you worry about other people’s opinions you become unhappy. Do what you need to do to live life to the fullest to make you happy.” This included wearing clothes and acting the way you want to, whether it is considered acceptable or not. I appreciated these reactions, and I believe that they represent a fair amount of people who feel that caring and worrying are futile.
I enjoyed planting the question of “why should I care” in people’s heads. Several people told me that it confused them or that they could not come up with a good response. To me, not knowing was better than a pithy statement about how we are required to care. While people could not elaborate, it seemed justifiable, and the person could move on with their life without more than a minute’s thought.
One female student was enlisted to reply by a friend of mine, where she sat on the floor for a few minutes asking me a few questions. After pondering, Amber Gartung, a third year Graphic Design major said, “You have to. Even if there’s nothing to care about, you care about that. If people say they’re apathetic, they care about upholding that.”
I tried to distance my personal views from the question when talking to participants because I wanted them to respond honestly. I was not looking to be convinced one way or another, but I was curious to hear what they had to say to someone who represented a larger audience. When I told potential contributors that I was writing an article on apathy for the Reporter, they seemed more willing to share their advice or opinion. It also gave them time to process what the question meant and how to ask it. The most frequent reply was “care about what?” People seemed uncomfortable with something so open-ended, but I encouraged creativity by saying “anything” or “tell me if I should care at all.” By the middle of the second session, my initial bias had vanished, and I wanted to gather as many voices as possible.
A few people saw through my sign’s intention, noting I must care if I am asking the question. One person engaged me with a series of questions asking me what I should care about, but I continued to press that I was the one asking him. Alexander J. Evans, a fourth year Fine Art Photography student told me, “The best way to convince is to keep answering questions with questions so the person has to defend what [he or she believes].” He went on to say, “It is a biological necessity to care about things ... The only reason you’re here is because someone cared. And if that’s not a reason to care, then you never will.” Abraham Taleu, a fifth year Industrial Engineering major, had a similar reply that caring stems from human obligation. “You’re not fulfilling your human rights if you’re being apathetic. A lot of people can’t care because they are restricted. They care on the inside, but if we have the freedom to, then we ought to care.”
After conducting this social experiment, I no longer think our campus is riddled with apathy. I didn’t intend to convince anyone that it was important to care or not to care, but I wanted people to think about how they show their involvement with life around them. It could be an existential question about life’s unknown meaning, but it is simple enough that it can be sufficiently answered with a bit of thought. The most important aspect of this experiment is to continually ask yourself, even if you cannot answer it immediately, why should I care?
You can continue this experiment with your response via email: firstname.lastname@example.org