Why Should You Care about Apathy? The Dirty Truth about Insidious Indifference

Why Should You Care about Apathy? The Dirty Truth about Insidious Indifference

When my husband Michael and I packed a bag to bring up to visiting day at the kids’ sleep-away camp, we threw in the super soaker Jacob had requested, the light-up yo-yo Sophie asked for, and a pair of nail clippers. What we really should have packed was a tub of sheep dip for boys, and our industrial strength tolerance for apathy.

After a family rowboat ride and a swim in the lake, Michael walked Jacob back to his bunk to change his clothes. When Jacob pulled out a dry bathing suit to change into, Michael suggested that Jacob put on clean shorts instead, since we were done with waterfront activities for the day. Jacob shrugged, “I don’t have any.” Michael asked about clean socks. Same answer. When he dared to ask about clean underwear, it was still a no.

Apparently, Jacob hadn’t turned in his dirty laundry for a week – and his counselors had neglected to ask for it.

Now my fastidious husband was on a mission – and he found that the filth didn’t end with fetid socks.

Q: “Jacob, where’s your shampoo?”

A: “I think it’s under the bed. Not sure”

Q: “Jacob, where’s your toothbrush?”

A: “I think I lost it.”

Q: “When did you lose it?”

A: “Not sure. Maybe 10 days ago.”

Q: “Jacob, how have you been brushing your teeth?” (with braces – Ed.)

A: “With my finger.”

Q: “Jacob, don’t you know that you can get a new toothbrush for free at the canteen?”

A: “Yup.”

It was at this point that I walked in and heard Michael’s voice rising in inverse proportion to Jacob’s concern about anything related to personal hygiene.

I took Jacob directly to the canteen to pick up a new toothbrush, stopped by Sophie’s bunk to pick up a pair of oversized clean shorts, and made an impassioned case with Jacob’s head counselor for an emergency load of laundry to be done, pronto.

I ended my errands with one concrete conclusion: apathy stinks.

For Jacob, the opposite of cleanliness was indifference. But indifference can have much fouler side effects. According to Elie Wiesel, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

With deepest respect to Mr. Wiesel, I would contend that indifference is a kind of death itself – the death of motivation, caring, and engagement. And in Jacob’s case, his indifference likely resulted in the death of certain cells from his epidermis and tooth enamel.

What’s worse is that apathy is as contagious as lice in summer camp – spreading from head to head, going unnoticed until everyone is left scratching their heads as to why this wasn’t identified earlier. And apathy, like lice, often only gets remedied once people are deeply disgusted, greatly inconvenienced, or realize that their assets are in danger.

So how can you convert apathy into energy? By tapping into something – anything – that the other person feels strongly about, and making a compelling case for caring on their terms. It’s what’s known at the WIIFM approach: figuring out “What’s In It For Me?” from the other person’s perspective to give your issue the consideration that you want.

Here are some examples:

Situation: The workplace. Do you work for a supervisor who is indifferent to the fact that you regularly complete high-quality, on-time assignments, and that you could use some new challenges? If so, you probably are beginning to contract the apathy yourself, and are feeling less energized and invested in your work. The result? You might start turning in late, lower-quality work, and even jump ship as soon as a new job opportunity comes your way.

WIIFM Suggestion: Have a one-on-one conversation with your boss, selling her on the benefits to her for you to take on new, challenging assignments that could reduce her workload, make her department look good, and keep her star employee happy. (For suggestions on pitching this to the boss, download “How to Do Your Homework Before Selling Your Ideas”)

Situation: The non-profit organization. Are your donors giving flat gifts, or even reducing their gifts from the previous year? You don’t need me to tell you that donor apathy has a deleterious impact on your ability to serve your clients, and to make the kind of powerful, positive change that is at the heart of your organization’s mission.

WIIFM Suggestion: Fundraising guru Bill Sturtevant once said, “The gift is tangible evidence of an emotional experience.” Train your lay and professional solicitors in the art and science of interactive storytelling, to help donors connect to a powerful, singular emotional event that will remind them in their hearts, souls, and checkbooks as to why they care about your organization. Of course, you also need to make sure that your solicitors are not confusing apathy with inability. Times are hard, so your fundraisers need to be sensitive to the fact that a flat or reduced gift may represent fiscal adversity, not complacency.

Situation: The family. Imagine that your pre-teen son couldn’t care less about his personal hygiene (not that this would ever happen to you or me, of course), but you do. A lot.

WIIFM Suggestion: Play dirty to help him clean up his act. While he might not care about the effects of bacteria, fungus, or mold (I’m trying not to throw up here), he might worry about about his appearance to girls, whether his friends might tease him, or, that 10 days of finger-brushing his teeth might lead to an extra month wearing braces.

Benjamin Disraeli once said, “Cleanliness and order are not matters of instinct; they are matters of education, and like most great things, you must cultivate a taste for them.”

Where in your work, home, and community do you care about cultivating a taste for concern and commitment?

Deborah Grayson Riegel is a certified coach, speaker and trainer who helps individuals, teams and organizations achieve personal and professional success through her high-energy workshops, presentations and one-on-one coaching. Visit her online at www.myjewishcoach.com or www.elevatedtraining.com.

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