Has Apathy Become a Side Effect of COVID-19?

Early this August, a heartfelt video went viral of sheep that formed a beautiful heart shape in rural Australia. Sheep farmer Ben Jackson dedicated this beautiful gesture to his aunt whose funeral he was not able to attend due to COVID restrictions in Australia – “The realization of not being able to go and say ‘cheerio’ sunk in and I felt completely and utterly helpless and hopeless” Jackson said according to the Washington Post “It hurts. It hurts a whole bunch” he added. The video touched many hearts. The beautiful gesture and the pain Ben felt resonated with many of us. The shear devotion and admiration of the act almost made you forget the injustice and cruelty of the fact just how normal it has become, to not be able to see a loved one during these COVID times and not do things that are a vital part of the human existence – such as mourn at a funeral with loved ones or be there for birthdays or big life events. At this point in the pandemic, which ever country you may be in, a certain kind of limitation to your existence has become well normal. And we have lost a slither of empathy for each other in the process.

COVID-19 has had a lot of effects on peoples lives. To list them out would take a long time and to be honest, wouldn’t really be an interesting article. Since there was no life untouched by this virus, the effects of it have been plentiful. For some people it was medical, for others they were hit with grief, while others struggled with mental health issues or with their finances – the list goes on and on. The lasting effect of all these traumas will linger in our lives just like the virus seems to. Things we could never even think of came out as a side effect of having a global pandemic. For example the divide in opinions on how the pandemic should be handled or the various sentiments about wearing masks and not to be forgotten – the amplifying voices of anti-vaxers. While everyone talks about the side effects of the vaccine. One side effect presides over all of them and is found everywhere: The rise of apathy.

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been an overall divide in opinions of how a pandemic should be handled. This rift caused the creation of two universal camps that have come to oppose each other. In all this time, this rift has become so great there has been little empathy or compassion between the different groups. Neither side has tried to put themselves in other people’s shoes or understand where they are coming from. While we are all gathering facts about the camps that we are already, we are not spending the time exploring what may have lead to differences in opinions in the first place. The question I do get asked when I raise this argument is: Should we? Should we try to reason with people that refuse to see our point of view no matter how hard we try to come from an understanding and compassionate place? As the quote goes by Mark Twain: “Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience”. It’s fair enough to say either side thinks the others are idiots, so what is the point of having the conversation anyway? I leave it up to each person, if you feel you have the energy to discuss, by all means. Conversation is the only way things have ever gotten done in this world in large scale in the first place. We forget how much talking to one another can get us places, so even trying a little might make strides in the right direction.

But I’m not just saying empathy has gone down between pro-vaxxers and anti-vaxxers. I mean across the board. In general, the pandemic has caused the sentiment of self perseverance has come to higher levels than known before. For example, when someone tells me they can’t wear a mask because they get rashes, I have to say I cannot contain rolling my eyes. When people say they want to fly half way across the country to see their families, we consider them selfish and putting their families in danger. When someone says they want to stay locked up at home till the remainder of days, we think they are crazy and overreacting. There is only a slim window of tolerance we are all exerting and it has to fit with our specific view of how we see the world and specifically, how we should all behave during the pandemic. If it doesn’t fit, we do not accept it. When life is good, it’s easier to be more understanding and kind. When we are under constant stress and concern, barely keeping it together, it’s harder to find kindness towards the world. Especially for those that have lost loved ones. It’s not wrong to take care of yourself. There’s nothing wrong with having little room for empathy during hard times. It’s just that well – being apathetic is isolating and to some extent quite exhausting.

Just like the virus itself, I don’t have a cure for the rise in apathy. The one thing I can say the world has always been a little bit of a better place with more empathy in it. Not like empathy will help us beat the pandemic but perhaps with a little more empathy we might become a mere bit more tolerable.

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