A blind man was recently assaulted on a city street. Rather than help him or -- at the very least -- call 9-1-1, bystanders watched the event with the gusto displayed by ancient Romans witnessing Christians being thrown to the lions.
Last year, a man was pushed onto NYC subway tracks. As he struggled to climb onto the platform, no one came to help him, but one man was kind enough to photograph him as he was hit and killed by an approaching train. The photographer later sold his photo to the New York Post, which published it.
Unfortunately, these are not isolated events, and they are becoming increasingly common. If you go to YouTube, you’ll find hundreds of videos of rapes, robberies, abductions, and beatings witnessed by people who did nothing to help the victims. The public, at large, is becoming so indifferent to the suffering of others that there is now a name for this phenomenon: “Bystander apathy.”
Although researchers have found an inverse ratio between a person’s age and his or her empathetic rating (people in their sixties demonstrate three times as much empathy as do people in their twenties), empirical evidence shows that apathy is rising across all age groups. Examination of videos and photos taken at public assaults shows do-nothing bystanders of all ages – young, middle-aged, and elderly.
What is at the root of this growing epidemic?
In large part, our technology. Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, have created an environment where quantity replaces quality as a positive value. How often have you heard people bragging about the number of friends and followers they have – and not their virtues? Numbering has led to a numbing of what’s important in life.
Another problem with the worship of numbers is that in order to stand out in the crowd, salacious content and self-promotion is required; in short, a wannabe has to become his own electronic National Enquirer, and who gets hurt along the way is unimportant.
To that end: a fourteen-year-old student recently (and foolishly) sexted her then-boyfriend a naked photo of herself. The boyfriend, subsequently, forwarded it to a friend of his, who, in turn, forwarded the photo to dozens of others with an added caption: “If you think this girl is a whore, text it to all of your friends.” The photo went viral, and the girl was disgraced and humiliated. Apparently those involved did not care a whit what damage was inflicted upon the girl. It wasn’t about her. It was all about them.
A male student posted a list of “sexually active” girls from his high school on Facebook. Included with the names were descriptions of their sexual activities. Within hours, over 7,000 people had “liked” the page and trashed the girls’ reputations. Not only did these 7,000 people not care that reputations were ruined and pain and suffering inflicted, they also didn’t mind being identified as contributors; indeed, most probably never viewed their behavior as immoral at all.
Our daily exposure to violence -- at the movies, on TV, and on video games -- has also contributed to increased apathy. The more violence we see, the more desensitized we become to the pain and suffering of others. There has also been a relaxing of moral standards and rules of behavior. Relativists preach that there is no right and wrong; that all actions are moral, depending on the individual’s perspective.
I disagree. There are some perspectives that have no redeeming points of view.
Written standards have also taken a beating. When Joel Stein accused Millennials of being “lazy, entitled narcissists” (Time Magazine, May, 2013), thirty-three year old blogger Tom Hawking responded: “horseshit… piss…asshole…and whoop-de-fucking do" (Flavorwine.com), substantiating Stein’s thesis.
Today’s technology has not only desensitized us from the inside-out, it has dulled our senses from the outside-in. In October a passenger on a commuter train waved his 45 caliber pistol overhead for some minutes, but none of the passengers -- numbering in the dozens -- noticed. They were all too preoccupied with their mobile devices, as evidenced later on security footage. The gunman ultimately shot and killed a twenty-year-old student.
The other side of the Apathy coin is the face of Narcissism. As concern for others decreases, self-love fills the vacuum. (The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement,” Twenge and
). Contributing to the “It’s all about me” phenomenon are overly indulgent parents -- “helicopter parents” and followers of “self-esteem childrearing,” where children are taught that they’re right – even when they’re wrong. Failures equal successes, and an “F” is as good as an “A,” ignoring the fact that self-esteem comes as a result of REAL achievement -- not handouts. In the self-esteem environment, children grow up with an attitude of entitlement...
... which leads to what I call the “Entitlement Walk.” Drive across a college campus today and note that at every corner and sometimes between corners there are well-marked pedestrian crosswalks. At least one-third of the students entering the crosswalks clutch mobile devices like pacifiers -- talking, tweeting, and/or texting, never checking for possible oncoming cars. They believe they’re untouchable and that everyone is looking out for them; consequently, they don't look out for themselves.
This entitlement walk doesn’t end at the crosswalk. University professors report that there has been a significant change in student attitudes over the past four to five years. It’s not uncommon today for students to not hand in required papers, to not attend classes, to fail exams; yet show up at professors’ offices complaining that they didn’t get an “A.” And sometimes, when the student gets no satisfaction, a parent will call later, explaining why his or her child must get an “A.”
The Entitlement Walk continues after graduation.
What can we do about it? How can we get the "me, me, me's" to think about "thee, thee, thee"? Here's how:
1. Don’t accept rude behavior from others -- like those who treat public places like their living rooms. If you don’t speak up, you are part of the problem.
2. Stop and help those in need and enlist the help of others. You teach by doing.
3. Relocate the “Turn your cell phone off” signs hung in doctors’ offices to the waiting areas. Patients deserve as much consideration as do staff – maybe more.
The Bottom Whine: Empathy is at the heart of morality, civility at the heart of civilization, and whining at the heart of change.