Small word causes big problems

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 29, 2012

For such a small word, “apathy” sure has a very big impact on our society.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, apathy is “a lack of feeling or emotion; or lack of interest or concern: indifference.”

This six-letter word should really be treated more like the four-letter variety because it is purely detrimental for our community.

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Recently, I was corresponding via e-mail with a friend and concerned citizen about some of the challenges our region faces and what we can do to overcome them.

We agree that the biggest problem we face is overcoming that little word again — apathy — and simply getting citizens to care.

My friend even invoked the immortal words of a revered Ohio State University football coach.

“Woody Hayes always did a word power for his team each day. The word of the day when the BBC recorded it was apathy,” my friend said. “Woody warned his players that when they see apathy to run like the devil from it as it has ‘never done one damn thing for civilization.’”

My friend — and coach Hayes — is absolutely right that apathy prevents our region, and ultimately our country, from reaching its full potential.

It is apathy that keeps our voter turnout so far below an acceptable level that it is embarrassing. It is apathy that keeps our citizens uninformed about what is going on in the world, the nation and even our own communities. It is apathy that has allowed our neighborhoods to fall into disrepair, our children to lag in school achievement levels and our economy to struggle.

Pretty much just about every societal ill can be blamed, one way or another, on apathy.

Some of the criticism can certainly go to the skewed priorities in a culture where celebrities and athletes get far more attention than teachers, emergency responders, community leaders and volunteers.

In a way, sports and entertainment have become the opiate of the masses.

“People like to be entertained to get their minds off real problems,” my friend said. “Tiger football is like OxyContin for the Ironton community. They get medicated on Tiger football in order to avoid the harsh realities of our city’s plight.”

Does that mean that entertainment, sports or rooting for your local team is bad? Of course not. My friend is an avid Fighting Tigers fan himself, but his point that we need to build that same level of enthusiasm for addressing the challenges facing our communities is certainly a valid one.

The first step is simply identifying that we have a problem.

The second — and far more important and difficult task — is doing something about it.

But we can.

It is not too late. But change won’t happen overnight either.

How do we do it? One person a time.

It starts with ensuring that we do not allow apathy to creep into our own lives. We can lead by example and then work to help those around us.

If even a fraction of the people who get excited about the premier of a blockbuster summer movie or start of a sports season took the same level of interest in some of life’s truly important things, we could change our cultural environment.

We have to keep trying, getting back up every time we fail. That’s the surest way to beat apathy every time.


Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCaldwell_IT.