Empathy or apathy

by Raphy Islam

EmpathyA boy was running in the middle of a busy street. He was maybe six to seven years old. He was being chased by other boys armed with sticks. Onlookers could say that the boy was scared out of his wits.
In a rickshaw, I watched the incident for 20 odd seconds. I did not know why he was being chased, but like others all around me, I went along doing my own business.
When I came home a few minutes later, I felt some part of me crushed inside. Most likely, it was guilt.
I do not know if it was just lack of courage or just apathy because I was no way connected. But I still understood there was literally no reason that can validate that boy to be beaten up by those sticks.
Maybe if I would have stepped down and captured the whole incident on my phone, the video may have shocked people. It may have gone viral!
But the truth remains, when confronted with real life scenarios like these, most of us are either cowardly or apathetic. We would have screamed at the top of our voice on facebook because it does not take extra effort. Moreover it shows to our near and dear ones that we are very emotional and have morals.
It may be very irrational of me to be saying this but that is how things are in our life now. I am not saying it’s a new phenomenon. When our personal relations are based on ulterior motives, how can we hope to care about complete strangers! Maybe on some level we care, but we do not act on that bit of caring.
I have to admit that I am not that big on socialising nor do I face these situations all the time. But most of the time no one comes forward to stop this wrong doing. Just a few months ago, a chunk of news came in the dailies that 8-10 year old kids were being brutally abused, publicly. Some of them died before someone could show that bit of caring.
The latest occurred on July 25, 2016, when textile factory worker Sagar Barman (10) was killed in Narayanganj after air was pumped into him through his rectum.
It takes a different kind of inhumanity to punish children that severely and also a different kind that avert their eyes during such incidents. But somehow both these inhumane activities are connected.
I am also a perpetrator of such behaviour.
Maybe that incident was nothing. Maybe all I saw was just a practical joke taken a bit far. But the fact is that we did not care to spare a minute or two when it was needed. But the fear and the tear pouring down that boy’s cheek was no joke.
We have so many things to celebrate. But are we not built with the same inclination? How can you or I defy it so easily?
I weep for myself. I weep for the humanity that we inhabit.
We still have a lot to offer. It’s not just a hopeless romantic fantasy. There are lots of small gestures of kindness that show that we have empathy. We can embrace it and not make it an exception, rather think of it as a normal state.
Just before this incident about a month ago, a totally unknown person gave me a lift on his hired rickshaw as he realised that we were going in the same direction. He spoke of so many personal things with me. As he was older than me, he even refused to take any contribution to the fare. As a matter of fact while he was going away he even blessed me, and both of us knew we would never see each other nor remember each other, other than being just a vague memory.
I heard somewhere that there are moments that define us. Just moments that pass by with the blink of an eye. In that moment what we choose to be, what we choose to do becomes our very being. Some have to wait until the moment we die to get such a moment. Some are lucky enough to not be in a constant confusion about what to think of ourselves.
There is this smash hit in the USA, a Broadway Musical named ‘Hamilton’ written and starred by Lin-Manuel Miranda. There is a very beautiful line in there, ‘If you don’t stand for something, then what do you fall for’.
Let’s hope to fall for something.