A day ago, a close friend posted two very different status updates. One post was about the astounding level of violence in the streets of Chicago last weekend. The other was about getting her day kicked-off with iced coffee from Starbucks. Same person. Same day. Which post do you think was most popular? If I’m being honest, I’d have to admit to enjoying the Starbucks post more. It was fun, light and relatable. I’d just left Starbucks too.
The Chicago post made me sad and left me feeling helpless. I scanned by it at first and only came back to it out of guilt. I knew what the story would say before I read it – 1. Random violence in poor neighborhood. 2. Things are getting worse. 3. Many dead. It was not in any way uplifting. And I read nothing that made me hope things would get better. Was that a waste of time? Was that a pointless drain on my positive outlook? I say no, and here’s why.
The case for caring.
Media outlets, politicians and marketers have become increasingly sophisticated at noticing what we care about and then feeding it back to us (again and again). For the purpose of this post when I say “we” I mean the vast middle class that everyone hears so much about during election season. They notice that we care about celebrity stories. We care about feel-good rescue efforts. We care about the untimely deaths of people that are supposed to live in safe areas and aren’t supposed to die young. We care about strong beliefs and the showmanship of political fights. We definitely care about consumer products (hence the Starbucks post). And you better believe we care about anything that involves winning big from sports to business.
So that’s what we do care about. What’s something we don’t care about?
We don’t care about people dying in poor drug-infested neighborhoods. I won’t pretend that race isn’t a factor too, but that’s a different post for a different day. The urban death toll story has been told a million times so in many ways we are desensitized to it. And we find it hard to relate to the victims. They may have been involved in committing crimes. They may just be poor which means they have yet to “boot strap” their way to more safety and success. This implies that being poor is mostly their own fault and clearly not how we would be living if in their shoes. Again, we can’t relate nor are we trying to. Yes we feel bad, but no we don’t want to read stories about it. No, we don’t want to click on that link about young people dying in senseless ways on a weekend we spent celebrating and eating hot dogs. It is an emotional drain to care and our caring doesn’t seem to help anything.
They know what we care about.
People in power (within business, media, and politics) spend hours tracking and analyzing the numerical data on what we care about. They know what we click on and what we don’t. They closely track what we tweet on and post on. They know if we share a link or simply “Like” it. They even know if we stayed on the page long enough to have actually read the article or if we quickly left. They may know if we ran any follow up searches on the topic. They know if more people than normal are sending emails with the word “Chicago” in it. Thanks to Google Analytics, I’ll know if this ends up being my most unpopular post yet.
I realize we can’t pay attention and care about every issue. What’s happening in Chicago is just an example of what mass indifference looks like and how it spreads. It perfectly illustrates how a holiday massacre can become just a minor national story. It isn’t my intention to imply that urban violence deserves more focus from you than a service area you may care more about. My main point here is that caring is tracked closely and caring makes a difference. Whether or not people care about an issue has a dramatic effect on the resources and public attention given to finding a solution. And our small acts that demonstrate we care about a topic (reading and sharing articles, liking posts, and engaging in thoughtful dialogue) matter. They matter a lot.
It’s a struggle to care. As the title says, it is often uncomfortable and sometimes inconvenient. But every little bit counts. Have you closed your emotional doors to the plight of strangers, current events or problems that seem unsolvable? If so, I’d encourage you to try to open them again. I’d encourage you to fight ambivalence and to care more freely and more broadly. Caring does matter and they’ll notice when you do. Numbers don’t lie.