The list of areas of indifference seems endless. Our technology is ripping a hole in the ozone layer. We are running out of places to throw our junk. Many children are too lazy to do simple chores. More and more parents are too indifferent to be good parents. Teachers are too apathetic to teach. Shop clerks are too uninterested to be courteous.
Sadly, I am not saying anything we don’t know. We do not lack information. We lack inspiration. Too often, we obviously don’t care. Indifference.
What could be worse? Indifference believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.
Why do people become indifferent? We certainly aren’t born that way. Mostly, I believe, indifference is a direct result of pain and disappointment, both in ourselves and others.
Once I met a man who had more reason to be indifferent than any other person I have personally met. Born and raised in Cambodia, during the 1980s he experienced first-hand persecution from the communist government. His struggle to leave the country is the stuff the movies are made from.
When he told me that he and his family left Cambodia, I naively had asked. “Did you leave by plane or boat?” “We walked,” he told me, “for four months, by night in order to avoid being discovered by the enemy.”
This grueling journey out of Cambodia came after four years in a concentration camp. Shortly before the government was overturned, this man had more than three thousand employees working for him. He told me of the time when one potential employee was sent to his office. The young man wanted a job badly, but he owed $500.
In Cambodia at that time, you could not take on work if you were in debt. In fact, you were sent to prison until the debt was paid. The man begged for a job to keep himself out of prison, to feed his starving family. The boss knew the young man would never be able to pay a debt of this size and then reached into his billfold and gave him the $500.
The man fell to his knees sobbing. “I can never repay you.” The new boss just asked that he be a good employee. Later the government was overthrown and the boss became a prisoner. Two years into his stay in the concentration camp, working from sunrise to sunset, eating only a handful of rice each day, watching hundreds of his friends being executed, wearing the same clothes as on the day of his capture, the time finally arrived for his execution.
A young man working in the camp was assigned this gruesome task. Led outside the camp to a remote area, the two men stood facing each other. “You don’t remember me, do you Boss?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Years ago you saved my life. You gave me $500 to pay my debt and a job. I thought I could never repay you. Today the debt is paid.”
He did not execute him, but instead put his old boss into another area of the concentration camp. Later, the prisoner risked a daring escape. He was shot four times, but crawled into hiding and remained hidden until his wounds healed. He then returned to the concentration camp where his wife and children were held, rescued them, and began the four-month journey to safety.
After enduring so much pain and suffering it would have been easy for him to disconnect from life. He might have said, “After what this world has put me through, I’ll never care about another human. I’ll keep my distance.”
Instead, today this man continues to care about life. He still is actively involved in helping others. He contributes as a productive citizen to our society. Rather than indifference, he models a caring, involved life.
Despite our pain and disappointments, may we all stay as connected and involved with life.