In The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning (2004), home-brewed philosopher Charles D. Hayes (and one of my favorite authors) writes about how “mainstream indifference” fuels a lack of compassion and kindness in our society:
Mainstream indifference is a form of ignorance born of inattention and apathy. Depending solely upon appearances, it is fed by pettiness and a gravitation toward whatever seems easiest. . . . Mainstream indifference is devoid of compassion; it’s a hostile. authoritative, and testosterone-laden environment where the weak are ridiculed and the poor are held in contempt regardless of the circumstances of their plight.
Hayes concludes that “indifference is a spiritless sidestepping of responsibility and a serious impediment to achieving authenticity.”
Applying Hayes’s words to the world of work, they resonate. Whether we’re talking about workplace bullying, long-term unemployment, severe income inequality, dysfunctional and stressful work environments, or a host of other challenges, indifference to the lives and work experiences of others has a lot to do with it. That’s the way things are. It’s not my problem. S/he can get another job. I’m just following orders. People tend to get what they deserve. If I just do my job and keep my mouth shut, I’ll be safe.
We have to pick our battles, as I’ve said before. But mainstream indifference, by way of opting out almost completely, is at the far end of the other side of the spectrum.
So how can we go from indifference to compassion, empathy, and dignity at work? How can we create workplaces where community and inclusion are more than empty management buzzwords? For me it starts with good leadership, but there’s more to it than that. I’ll continue to tackle these questions, and I hope you will, too.