Shameful Indifference

Along with other people of conscience, I was shocked to see the recent news report on the Florida teens that laughed as they watched a man drown to death. They mocked him as he struggled to stay afloat. They recorded video of his demise and can be heard laughing and even telling him that they weren’t going to help him and that he was going to die. Those who reported it seemed as filled with dismay as I was. The heinousness of their action was reflected in the fact that there was no law under which they could be punished for not rendering aid to this man or for being so cruel to him as he drowned. The state legislature had not imagined such a scenario that people would be so cruel and callous as not to even try to call for help. The thought of legislating to punish such shameful indifference had not been considered because the behavior seemed unimaginable.

As shocking as this was, after reflecting, I came to realize that it wasn’t as uncommon as I initially thought. While seeing it on video and knowing that the perpetrators of such a callous act were mere teens may have been a shock, the truth is that this is a reflection of human callousness that rears its ugly head within our world from time to time. How many did not care about the reports of the murders of Jews during the Holocaust? How many lives are slaughtered today in countries that are filled with violence and injustice while the world turns a blind eye to the pain of the innocents? This reflects the callousness displayed in not so distant American history when Jim Crow ruled in the South and African Americans were lynched at family picnic like celebrations. We have seen this lack of regard for life and celebration of violent callousness as people have recorded themselves beating and mistreating the homeless as a type of sport to be displayed on the internet, much to the delight and amusement of the shallow and immature viewers.

Like those who committed such atrocities, find them entertaining, or easily overlook them,  these youths had no problem watching a man die. They felt no compulsion to render any aid whatsoever.  They found his plight entertaining.  Their cold hearts lacked any sense of compassion or acknowledgment of his humanity. They did not lift a finger to help him, to get help for him, or to even report what had happened  to the proper authorities. They laughed and taunted him in his final moments of gasping for air.  It has been reported that, once caught, they showed no remorse for what they had done.

Most people are appalled by such behavior. Most of us find it disgusting… a display of the worst inhuman characteristics, and worthy of punishment. Our sense of justice is offended by such an outrage. The video was so shocking that the news reports that displayed it also provided a warning to potential views that the contents were  extremely disturbing. This warning was issued because the presumption was that most people would have an emotional response to the contents and that what was displayed could have a negative psychological impact.

If we really examine the lack of compassion displayed by those teens who watched a man die and made sport of the occasion, we must also consider the callousness that it takes to leave for dead those in need of medicine and medical attention without any means to acquire it. This too is shameful indifference.

Scripture teaches us that all humans are created in the image of God. Though marred by sin, we are still God’s image bearers. We can make moral judgments. We are responsible for our conduct and our treatment of others. God calls us to be compassionate, charitable, and kind toward one another… to acknowledge the image of the divine in each other. Most decent people would not presume that they could watch someone struggle to hold on to life and have no urge to help, to rescue, or at least to call for aid.  Most people could not see themselves simply laugh and mock as a person died.  There is now an outcry against such cruel, shameless, and indifferent behavior, as there are those who are calling on a reevaluation of the law, so that such behavior can be punished.  

But, as we justifiably rail against such shameful indifference, let us not overlook some subtle, and uncomfortable, parallels that can be left unconsidered.  What of the many among us in this country who struggle to cling to life and receive little or no aid from those who look on with varying levels of indifference? What of those who must choose between needed medication and food because they cannot afford both?  What of those who suffer with treatable ailments and aches because the cost of treatment is beyond their reach? What of the families that lose their homes while covering debts accumulated from medical bills? We all know these people are out there.  Some of us know them personally.  Some of us are them, or have walked in their shoes at one point in our lives.  Can we stand on the shore and watch them drown and do nothing about it?  Are we like those shamefully indifferent teens, calling out “You’re gonna die! We are not helping you!”? While there may be no water involved, while there may be no actual drowning, rest assured, for many it is a matter of life and death and they are in peril for their lives or the lives of loved ones.

I have been called “liberal” by conservatives and “conservative” by liberals.  I am neither a Democrat or a Republican… I have voted for candidates from both parties, and even third party candidates on occasion.  I watch as our legislators debate over health care in this country and propose various “affordable alternatives” that will allegedly make healthcare “accessible.”  But, every proposal considered leaves some still “drowning.”  Every “affordable / accessible” solution still has some that are left to “drown.” America does not need  “affordable” or “accessible” healthcare.  Americans should have universal healthcare.  Every citizen should at least have what our taxes provide for our government leaders. It is shameful for our leaders to consider providing less than they receive back to the people who elected them and pay for their salaries and benefits.  If the current congressional majority and the White House truly want to “Make America Great Again,”* then make quality healthcare for all Americans a fact and not merely an aspiration or meaningless slogan.  If the current congressional minority truly cares about their constituents, then they should do what is best for the people without care for which party may claim more of the credit.  Only shameful indifference, influenced by powerful lobbies, stands between where we currently are and where we should be.  Drop the party banners and talking points and look at the needs of those who are drowning… and rescue them!

I call on all people of conscience to please contact your Representatives and Senators… demand that all Americans receive the healthcare that taxpayers provide to our elected Representatives, Senators, and President.

* My personal issues with that slogan can be left for another post.