This issue of apathy in modern times

Published 10:45 am Thursday, June 11, 2015

I can go back, if I try real hard, to Speech 101 in a darkened amphitheater on the campus of Memphis’ Rhodes College. That’s where I had to make the required persuasive and informative speeches on the very same stage where Designing Women’s Dixie Carter got her acting start (which, if you’re wondering, by no means improved my own abilities).

Funny, the thing I remember most about that course was a five-minute speech made by the school’s star basketball player. Low attendance at games had him riled up, and he pounded a word that broadened my 18-year-old vocabulary — apathy.

Learning a new tag for the old problem of indifference may have made me feel smarter at the time, but it didn’t make me want to go to basketball games. I’m okay with apathy in that regard. I have, however, thought about that speech topic in the years since when other issues have gotten my attention, like my current beef with waiting areas. In particular, waiting rooms with televisions.

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As if there aren’t already screens in our lives already, we now have to be subjected to them at the doctor’s office, the pizza place, the tire store and my new personal pet peeve — the hospital emergency room.

Now if there’s any place on earth where peace and quiet should reign, it’s an ER, right? The people sitting there are usually in pain or worried about someone who is. And those who don’t fit into those two categories? Well, maybe they should consider the people who do and try reading a magazine.

When I found myself living out that scenario, there was an additional element to agitate me. Not only was there an inescapable television blaring, but the material that held me and every other person in the room hostage wasn’t exactly, shall we say, wholesome. The soap opera (are they still called that?) being boldly broadcast across the airwaves and into our consciences wasn’t your grandma’s soap opera.

I cringed for the kids in that waiting room.

I cringed for myself.

Faces turned to look at the walls, feet shuffled against the waxed floors, but nobody made a move to do anything about the white elephant in the room. Sure, I played the debate out in my head (grab the remote, talk to a supervisor, “It’s a Christian hospital, after all”), but in the end I decided to keep my seat and not ruffle any feathers. In short, I decided to be apathetic.

And in a culture that’s steadily spiraling down the drain, I guess it’s not surprising that we can blithely watch debauchery played out on a screen while a nurse takes someone’s pulse in the corner. It’s just ironic, I think, that the same nurse doesn’t have an instrument to determine society’s real sickness.

Later, when our personal emergency medical situation had been down-graded to the you’ll-live category, I had time to reflect on my response to the toxic waste situation we had encountered in the waiting room. I was forced to acknowledge it wasn’t just apathetic, it was downright pathetic. What was I so afraid of, anyway?

You know, lots of us talk about how to make things better, how we would like to change the world.  I just hope that next time I’m put in a similar situation, I’ll have the courage to take a small baby step in that direction and do something pretty simple — change a channel. Join me?

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at