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If you’ve ever felt apathy, you know how it can blanket the heart in coldness and a stone-like torpor. When apathetic, we don’t care what happens to others, and sometimes not even to ourselves. We feel powerless to change anything, so we don’t try.
Apathy, then, means a loss of hope. What a terrible condition! The apathetic person often concludes that, like 99.99 percent of things going on, the problems of the world are outside of our control. If that’s the case, why spend our time, thoughts, words, actions, or feelings trying to do something about the situation?
The Apathy Pandemic
This truly defeatist, depressing way to think or feel about oneself or what happens in the world seems like a pandemic recently. So many people have concluded that they do not have the power or the personal energy to make a difference. Of course, it can happen naturally when individually and collectively we face so many thousands of challenges to survive and thrive. With massive global issues like war, famine, and climate change, it’s difficult, given the conditions we face, to see a way to make life better, fairer, equal, and more just.
The Baha’i teachings encourage us not to give up, counseling humanity that we must search out ways to act rather than apathetically imagining our powerlessness and our extinction. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, reassured us in The Hidden Words that we need not fear such negative outcomes – that the Creator has destined an imperishable existence for us all:
O Son of Man! Thou art My dominion and My dominion perisheth not; wherefore fearest thou thy perishing? Thou art My light and My light shall never be extinguished; why dost thou dread extinction? Thou art My glory and My glory fadeth not; thou art My robe and My robe shall never be outworn. Abide then in thy love for Me, that thou mayest find Me in the realm of glory.
But we can’t just sit back and wait for good things to happen. The progress of humanity and the continuation of civilization depend on our feelings and actions. If we want peace, we must work for it. If we want safety, we must work toward it. If we want anything, work will produce it.
We must expend the effort.
Yes, we can’t make someone else do something they don’t want to do – but each of us can kindly and forthrightly let others know how you feel, what you think, and why. Knowledge is power, ignorance is the death of soul; the extinction of the best that human nature offers. If you’ve loved or been loved, you know what bliss is, for, in love, our sole goal is to be with our beloved.
Setting Realistic Spiritual Goals
Setting goals paves the path toward growth and change. If you have realistic spiritual goals – not only for yourself and the growth of your inner spirit, but for humanity as a whole – you can combat apathy with action. No one who sets spiritual goals to consistently act for the good of others remains apathetic for long.
The Universal House of Justice which leads the Baha’i world community, wrote in a 26 November 2012 letter:
Setting and achieving specific goals to improve conditions is a legitimate concern of social action; yet, far more essential is the accompanying rise in the capacity of the participants in an endeavour to contribute to progress. Of course, the imperative to build capacity is not only relevant to the individual, important though that may be; it is equally applicable to institutions and the community, the other two protagonists in the advancement of civilization.
To set goals is not enough, although they do represent a key to progress. We must also have the capacity, elements, and resources to achieve them.
My goals, beyond the daily needs of food, clothing, and shelter, have always involved being a good world citizen, including offering service to my community. In a larger sense, that’s really the goal of every Baha’i, as Abdu’l-Baha described it:
… through the zeal and ardour of the pure of heart, the darkness of hatred and difference will be entirely abolished, and the light of love and unity shall shine; this world shall become a new world; things material shall become the mirror of the divine; human hearts shall meet and embrace each other; the whole world become as a man’s native country and the different races be counted as one race.
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These kinds of lofty, hopeful goals do not get accomplished by themselves – but we can all work toward them every day. Every day we can get along with others, work on our own spiritual growth, and help humanity in some small (or large) way. Objectives, aims, and steps, sometimes baby steps, help us reach the goal. When even baby steps are achieved, reaching the goal sends endorphins throughout the brain to the pleasure center and we feel on top of the world. Hope flourishes and apathy dissipates.
So take a moment. Get paper and pen or your computer or phone. Just make a start, and list your goals for tomorrow, for next week, for the remainder of this year. Begin with your own internal spiritual goals by asking “How could I improve myself, be a better person, extend more love and caring out into the world?” Then focus on a few external goals, like career or family or where you’d like to be next year at this time. Make this a regular practice, and no matter how you do it, you’ll be surprised, amazed even, at what you can achieve if you make a start. The Universal House of Justice said “Small steps, if they are regular and rapid, add up to a great distance travelled.”