Military commanders are taught there are two great sins in planning operations; one is waiting, and predictability and the other is indifference. Today, business leaders are instructed well by academics about the problems with waiting to make a decision, failing to act, and the costs of blown opportunities from taking too long to make a decision. But few have ever considered the costs of indifference. I intend to close this gap in education, using some recent examples and some history to reflect why indifference is a corrosive acid on the souls of men.
Indifference is all about a lack of interest, not having or showing concern, and refusing sympathy. Webster has also referred to indifference as unimportant. When discussing the sympathetic aspects of indifference, please remember, sympathy is part of the emotions of ruination. Many people continue to become lost in showing empathy and sympathy when choosing not to emote or become involved in the feelings of others is a better course of action. Lacking sympathy might not be a terrible thing in a particular circumstance and does not reflect indifference.
What is the distinction between choosing not to emote and indifference?
Let’s take Robert Solomon’s position that emotions are a choice, a judgment, and a social event. Indifference is not distinguishable from other emotions and remains a choice, a judgment, or a social event. Except one is not left trying to distinguish between indifference as emotion and indifference as lacking interest or caring. More to the point, if indifference was simply an emotion to choose, then indifference is apathy, and apathy is another emotion on the path to ruination.
Hence, there must be more to the concept of indifference to make the separation between indifference as emotion and indifference as an action. Let us pause here for a moment mentally and keep one principle firmly in mind, indifference, or the activities that reflect indifference, are a choice, a decision, and judgment about the social situation. Choices have natural consequences that cannot be escaped. The consequences of choosing indifference cannot always be controlled or directly understood as lines of congruence from the choice of indifference to the consequences of indifference. These principles remain valid for all emotional choices expressed by humans. Worse, the valuation of the consequences can vary wildly from person to person, creating additional consequences that snowball into major social events quickly.
Solomon makes a classic point in tying indifference to defensive mechanisms used in choosing emotional interactions for social situations. Indifference can reflect envy, resentment, hate, disdain, and the “opposite” of these emotions: love and respect—indifference embodying the individual’s psyche through emotional choices. When angry, frustrated, or time-pressured, how many times has the words “I don’t care” slipped out as the position when at another time the decision would not have been indifferent? Is the defensive aspect clear?
Please note, when using the term opposite, I am trying to be easily understood. The problem when discussing emotions is that there are no clear-cut opposites to emotions. For example, the opposite of light is dark; but light shades include darkness to set emotional states or moods. Opposite always depends upon the context, e.g., the social situation of human interactions. Another aspect of emotions is the transformation from one to another, the speed of transformation, and the social context forcing a change. Thus, making distinctions between emotions remains ambiguous and always will depend upon context and the social environment.
Finally, please remember that positive and negative are valuations of consequences, not emotional choices. The emotional choice will have consequences, and the social situation, the judgment, and the choice will be reflected in the consequences experienced. The emotion itself cannot be judged without the consequences, and the valuation of the consequences is deeply personal. Hence trying to characterize an emotion is simpleminded and detrimental to all aspects of emotional valuation. The emotion cannot be evaluated or valued, but the consequences from that emotional choice must be considered and given value. Does this make sense?
People seeking to control social situations employ emotional sophistry to plasticize the emotion and the consequence into weapons to force those they select to either come closer or move further away. Where indifference is concerned, the aspects of defense remain the most influential aspect of emotional choices leading to action. The cost and constraint of emotion are all found in the consequences of that emotional choice and social environment. Defense mechanisms work to protect, but as the axiom goes, a good defense is supported by a good offense. The best defensive drivers drive offensively and defensively, balancing the offense and defense to protect themselves, as a continuous string of decisions while driving.
I realize this was a long explanation, but understanding the consequences of choosing to emote, choosing to be indifferent as a defensive position, and employing other emotions in social environments to judge others, are all connected emotionally speaking. Remaining interconnected and the failure to describe these relationships does not produce the understanding for evaluating the situations around us properly. Let me be clear, the difference between choosing to emote and indifference is the defensive aspect of indifference when applied to a social situation.
Indifference in Action
Consider the teenager who, when given a choice, screams, “I don’t care.” When they calm down, who will care a great deal but are stuck inside their choice and consequence cycle because they chose to defend when they needed a different emotional response to a particular situation? My wife, when we got married, discussed how to decorate the home. I decided that the home looks and the decorations making a house a home were beyond my purview, realizing I have no taste in furnishings and am happy with bare essentials. This decision has aggravated and grated on my wife for our entire marriage (20+ years), but I refuse to budge.
I am not indifferent to what the house looks like, but I have no interest in the minutia of decorations and decorating. Hence, my simplicity is not indifference, as my wife has judged, but a recognition that there are more important aspects to life than choosing colors and styles of curtains, where furniture goes, or how to light a room. My consequence has been that sometimes I might not like her ideas but live with them due to the consequences of my choice to stay out of decorating decisions entirely. I have also had to move furniture I did not particularly like because she prefers a style and shape. My decision has also led to a host of other consequences. Since I refuse to budge on helping to decorate, I remain indifferent to how the house looks and push all credit onto her while accepting the blame for anything out of place or undesired in her home.
Public examples of indifference abound; one of the most obvious was the Beer Summit. President Obama’s indifference to police officers during the Henry Louis Gates arrest debacle in July 2009 reflected poorly in a socially political aspect for all his faults and all his other decisions. Thus the “Beer Summit” was held to improve the appearances of indifference towards police by the sitting US President. Except, the “Beer Summit” was as empty as the calories of the beer consumed for the next time a police controversy arose, the sitting US President went out of his way to blame police before all the facts were known. Leading to the question, what is President Obama defending by showing indifference to police officers?
Another aspect of indifference has been the Federal Response to individual states legalizing cannabis, a trend that took off under President Obama. The executive in charge, the sitting US President, reflected indifference towards states broadening the “state-approved legal” use of cannabis. Was the sitting president indifferent due to a defensive position due to his history of drug use? Are the stories true that President Obama smoked cannabis in the White House? Is there a connection between indifference showed by the US President and the rise of states legalizing cannabis?
President Trump was criticized for caring too much about war zones and problems outside the United States, while the infrastructure crumbled and the poor suffered. President Obama was criticized for his refusals to enforce “Red Lines” being crossed with impunity and where internationally illegal weapons of mass destruction were employed. Which one was a reflection of indifference? Why? I am not getting into political discussions here; the topic is indifference, and recognizing indifference and the consequence from indifferent actions remains crucial to improving decision-making. Both presidents inherited situations where American Troops were in harm’s way, and these troop conditions rightly took priority in decision-making short and long-term. Yet, which president was indifferent? Why? Does indifference change solely because of political leanings? Why?
President Biden was criticized for being indifferent to National Guard Troops sleeping in parking garages during his ascension and confirmation as US President in January and February 2021. When the political appearances could no longer be sidestepped, token measures were taken to improve troop comforts. What is President Biden defending where US Troops in the US Capitol are concerned?
Indifference surrounds us in every social situation, every day. Do we understand the role indifference is currently playing in obstructing development, hampering growth, and destroying lives? Since Feb. 2020, the globe has witnessed governments running away with stealing freedoms and liberties from the citizenry, issuing mandates and restrictions without due process, all because of a “health emergency.” The indifference to science by the politicians stealing liberty has been deafening. The indifference to the citizenry and the judiciary has also been deafening. To fight indifference, we must first understand what we are witnessing and then address that indifference at the source. We must realize our own indifference and determine why before we can begin to understand the larger applications of indifference and force change.
Solomon, R. C. (2007). Not passion’s slave: Emotions and choice [Kindle 6]. Buy your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/Not-Passions-Slave-Emotions-Passionate/dp/0195179781
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
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