There’s an old joke that goes something like this: A man is asked “What do you think is the greater problem in the world- apathy or ignorance?” And the man replies, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
Apathy and ignorance tend to reinforce each other. Recently I viewed a fascinating presentation by one of my favorite speakers and researchers, a man named Mark Passio who shed new light on these subjects for me and gave some fascinating insights into the problems facing humanity as this critical juncture in our evolution. Clearly, we are at a crossroads in history. With the precarious state we are in, it’s time to evolve or perish. It’s really as simple as that.
One of the points Passio made in his lecture which really struck a chord with me was the notion of caring. He stated that this was the foundation of any change in an individual. Before you can use your brain to formulate a plan, and before you can utilize your willpower to put that plan into action, you must first feel with your heart. You have to ‘care’ enough to want to do something, first for yourself and then for the world at large.
I think back on all the times when I have heard someone say to me, “I don’t CARE about that.” Often, someone will state it as “It’s not my business.” Or perhaps, “I don’t have the time to worry about that.” Or, “I have my own problems.” Or, “I have bigger things to worry about.” Many times people will say nothing at all, and simply shrug their shoulders and turn away with a disinterested look when you are discussing important issues with them. It struck me listening to Passio’s talk that saying “I don’t CARE ” is maybe the most disempowering and soul destroying phrase that one can utter.
When I try to speak with people about environmental issues, I notice their eyes glazing over quickly with the classic “I don’t care” expression. It seems that unless an issue directly affects them or their immediate family right here and right now, then it becomes an issue which they can safely file away in the back of their minds for another day. As long as it’s NOT IN MY BACK YARD, it’s ok. Other people around the world are of little to no concern. And the plant, animal, fish and insect kingdoms? Forget about it.
The development of compassion and a sense of caring and responsibility for all sentient beings is at the very core of Buddhism. Your life is lived not for yourself but as a service to creation.
And what about ignorance? When we analyze the Latin root of the world ‘ignorance’, we find that it shares a common root with the verb to ‘ignore.’ Indeed, to be in ignorance is to be in ‘IGNORE-ance.’ To be ignorant is a choice. This has never been more true than it is today when most of the world now has access to the internet and the world wide web. I constantly remind my students, especially when I see them wasting hours playing computer games, “You are the first generation to grow up with humanity’s accumulated knowledge at your fingertips. Almost anything you want to learn about you can find online. Perhaps you can find something interesting to look at to tickle your brain?” But alas, it is near impossible to wrench them away from the online games, given how addictive they are.
In the ‘old’ days, we had to trudge down to the library or bookstore and spend hours looking through the stacks to find the information we wanted. Now, we can find it in seconds with a few keystrokes. And yet, for most, we are not taking advantage of this opportunity. Educate yourself and set yourself free.