February 9, 2011

Is Your Emotional Running?

A 2009 research study with which I’m familiar indicates that less than 40% of Canadian adults participate in organized social/community activities of any sort. The highest level of involvement comes in sports (36%), while a paltry 13% participate in “religious” activities and less than 10% are involved in politics at any level. Participation in union/professional, cultural, community, and service activities all hover at or below 20%.

A pretty sorry state of affairs, don’t you think? Yet, lest we Americans fluff up our tail feathers, let’s remember that most research (whatever the topic) indicates our statistical similarity to Canadians. Thus, it’s not unreasonable to assume that U.S. results would mirror these. And, of course, the data show that, when it comes to most outside activities, we just don’t care.

But why are we so apathetic?

A sociologist could probably point out half a dozen legitimate reasons, ranging from lack of money to a distrust of social institutions to overwhelming personal busy-ness. Among the possibilities, though, I would contend that a prime cause might be good (bad!), old-fashioned selfishness.

Think about it. The activity category with the largest participation is sports – events in which we can play and compete in order to supposedly gain personal fulfillment. Similarly, the alternative to being involved – staying at home with one’s large-screen TV, movies on demand, streaming internet, and instant messaging – is also all about “self.” In contrast, the other social endeavors listed in the study – faith-based activities, politics, professional organizations, cultural and community events, service work – all involve and benefit others. They take up our time – time we want to ourselves – and don’t benefit us personally (or so we think). And, thus, few of us want to do them.

Now, I’m an introvert whose life can get very busy. Thus, I certainly understand the need for “down-time.” Even Christ took time to get away from the crowds – and, if that was necessary for him, it’s certainly true that we mere humans need it, too. However, I think we’re all too quick to cross the line from legitimate rest to self-indulgence and its “cousin,” apathy.

Aside from the fact that such an attitude isn’t even personally healthy, our examples speak louder than our words. And so, if you lecture your child about the value of “being a Good Samaritan” as you settle down into your La-Z-Boy® rocker (every night) to indulge in viewing several hours of “your shows,” what message will he hear? Is that really what you want to communicate in terms of what matters in life?

The way out is actually quite simple: decide to act – somewhere, doing something – and then get up and out the door. And take your child with you.

You’ll soon discover that benefiting others is a great way to fill your own emotional tank, too – and it feels a whole lot better than apathy.

Photo Credit: Renee Rorer


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