We’re supposed to care.
This past week, I’ve read reactions to the news that ISIS is enshrining rape as part of their theology. “Deplorable!” “Pure evil!” “Must be stopped!”
I’ve had conversations with friends about how frustrated they are with the legacy we are inheriting from the Baby Boomer generation. “Reckless!” “Moronic!” “Unfixable!”
I’ve watched the 24-hour news cycle of Trump sound bytes, Clinton shrugs, Jeb Bush’s Iraq comments. “Unbelievable!” “Insane” “Isn’t there anyone better?!”
On the surface, it looks like we care. We are certainly upset enough.
We’re certainly putting a lot of energy into being outraged in one direction or the other. Across party lines, a lot of us have opinions that we spout off on the social mediasphere. We vent at dinner with family and over beers with friends. We’re frustrated and it shows.
But frustration doesn’t equate to caring.
Here the old cliché rings true: actions speak louder than words. All this venting means that we see that things are wrong and wish they’d get fixed, often without really knowing what “fixed” would really look like, in part because we don’t care enough to really think that through. When we scratch the surface, all our frustration is really just a step above apathy. We’re so overwhelmed by what we see that instead of rolling up our sleeves, digging in, and doing something, we simply stay frustrated. And too often, we take that extra step toward apathy; we throw up and hands and we walk away. Our actions stay silent as we continue to stew.
Apathy toward our current political system has no purpose or place in America. It only serves to concentrate power into the hands of those who can raise enough money to polarize and outrage us. It tears away at the fabric of constructive dialogue, logical solutions, and political compromise. It is killing us because we enable it. We don’t care enough to stop it.
But, we have to care; it’s what we must do to survive as a democratic country. Yet what does that even mean? To care?
Caring means being engaged.
It means actually looking into which candidate you support in an election whether it is this upcoming presidential one or the next election for your local schoolboard. It means encouraging members of your community to run for local elections rather than allowing candidates to be formed by machine politics.
Caring means understanding how the issues affect you today and tomorrow.
It means doing a bit of research before believing your friends’ Facebook posts about GMOs or Climate Change Denial. It means learning how to do that research and consulting objective, empirically-based explanations rather than positions and opinions that are designed to provoke you based on emotion rather than fact. It means demanding that the Fourth Estate – the journalists and the news media they work for – reestablish itself as the guardians of democracy and not ratings. It means knowing less about Caitlyn Jenner and more about Chelsea Manning.
Beyond that, caring means holding leaders accountable.
It means actually writing Congress members relentlessly like we did in 2011 and then following up if they don’t follow through. It means political activism that goes beyond tweets that “raise awareness.” It means not chastising those who do organize for a cause and, instead, trying to hear them out (and if you don’t agree with their position, being able to articulate why). It means that we contest candidates who fail us, even if we support their political affiliation.
Most importantly, caring means believing that not all is lost.
Believing our political system is beyond repair is like thinking the car is forever broken when you don’t put gas in it. Super PACs and billionaire donors make it easy to think that the game is rigged. But even they cannot stand against a well-informed electorate that goes to the polls consistently.
Fixing the system so that we can actually solve some of the very real problems we face is not impossible. It just takes work from each of us that we may not want to do. It takes energy that we feel we may not have. It takes time that we may not want to give. Caring is working to make things better not for only ourselves but the people in our lives. And not only the people we love – or parents, siblings, spouses, children – but those in our communities, some who we may barely know and some who we often shun. Caring is about working towards making our communities stronger and shoring up the weakest links.
Caring is showing the heart not to give up, even when things don’t go as planned.
If we only stay frustrated or if we give into apathy, we’re done. Apathy means lying down on the battlefield and accepting death. Though it’s bleak, the only option other than death is to stand and fight, to charge the battlements and throw ourselves on them until we turn the tide of the war. No prize fight could ever have the stakes so high as it is in the true fight of the century: Apathy v. Care.
And like a prize fighter in a ring, we – you, me, everybody – have to have the heart and act on what we care about. It’s not always important that we win, or that we get our way. Sometimes we will be wrong and sometimes we will lose. But that doesn’t mean we should stop caring. Without caring, and showing what it means, we’ll be just as washed up as a down and out champ who doesn’t care enough even to hold up his head with dignity.