“I don’t care about rhinos”. These words leaped out at me, glaring at me from my phone. This was a reply after sending out an invitation to a rhino fundraiser we were promoting. The words hit me in the face like a splash of ice-cold water. How could someone possibly say that? My initial reaction of shock turned to anger and then to a questioning outlook. These words did not come from a thug, a poacher or an uneducated person. Rather an intelligent and accomplished surgeon.
Why would he say this? Why would he not care? I starting hatching a script to reply to him.
If I threw a bunch of statistics at him. Rhinos are critically endangered, less than 27300 left globally. Being brutally poached at a rate of 1 every 10 hours of every day. Would these facts change his mind? Or how about the fact that Rhinos are a keystone species, along with bees, sharks, sea otters and starfish. Would these facts impress him?
Let’s go deeper, Rhinos, a mega-herbivore, are a keystone species who play an important role in ecosystems. Rhino grazing helps maintain savanna grasslands, which in turn supports numerous other species, reducing biodiversity. Rhinos have been around for millions of years and here we are, in their last 5 minutes of their survival. Would all of these astounding facts change his mind?
The world of wildlife poaching is orchestrated by ruthless crime syndicates, willing to kill animal or human if we get in the way of their 20-billion-dollar yearly revenue. Now listed as the 4th most profitable illegal enterprise, which has now been proven to fund global terrorism. As in the case of drug trafficking, the threats from poaching and wildlife trafficking include not only a wide range of environmental and economic threats, but also political and national security threats.
Or maybe he just sees so much human suffering and has become desensitized, or possibly and simply, his heart is just “3 sizes too small.” Whatever the reason, this man has clearly stopped caring. He is not alone. Society as a whole seems to have rapidly descended down the same path. Our social interactions have also become more abstract. A lot of direct interactions have been replaced by social media and the “like culture”.
We also live in a world where “quick fixes” make us feel better about ourselves. Make us feel like we are doing our part. But does contributing $5 a month to whatever cause, or bringing in canned goods to a food drive mean that we care? It sure makes us feel better about ourselves, doesn’t it? Allows us to continue on our journey, feeling like our contribution has made a difference. That $10 grocery donation bag at the grocery counter, what about the rest of the year, is that family not hungry the entire year? Shouldn’t we be “caring all year”?
I also use the example of a nurse. Caring, compassion, and empathy are commonly mentioned when considering the characteristics of a professional nurse. The patient is in the hospital. They expect nurses to be skilled at their job, to keep them safe, to be able to help them return to their former life. But what they really want from them, is to feel cared about. To feel that someone values them enough to take the time to care. When they get home, I am willing to bet, they don’t say “Hey, that nurse really did a good job putting in my IV”, what they will say is “The nurse really cared about me as a person, she was really compassionate”. Never will I underestimate the healing power of caring and how it can carry the sickest or most downtrodden of us through the worst of times.
I do feel a shift happening. Our twenty some year olds and often younger, as in the case of the “Zero Hour Movement”. The mission of the Zero Hour Movement is to center the voices of diverse youth in the conversation around climate and environmental justice. Zero Hour is a youth-led movement creating entry points, training, and resources for new young activists and organizers (and adults who support our vision) wanting to take concrete action around climate change.
Let’s take our example from our younger generation, who are taking ownership for and reclaiming the current concerns and doing great work. Another fine example is Greta Thunberg, who is receiving a lot of criticism for her outspoken views on climate change.
So I propose to you, that we have to help people to learn how to care. If we want to live in a more compassionate and caring world, we need to both teach and model it to all. I propose a combined approach. Education, example and relevance. Approach each person differently, in a way that they can relate to.
In the case of this seemingly self-absorbed surgeon who may or may not have lost the ability to care, will he ever be able to express compassion and caring, maybe not, but possibly to take the approach of relevance would be the best option. How does this relate to him? “Do you care about terrorism?” The easiest way for a person to feel detached from a cause is failing to see the relevance to their own life. Sometimes this is willful ignorance, such as ignoring the proven health effects of smoking. Sometimes it is a genuine lack of knowledge. What about the scenario when the cause really won’t affect the person directly? Try and communicate how it could affect someone they care about.
So, the next time you have to take your shoes off at the airport security line, or stand in silence on September 11th to remember the precious souls lost on that day, think about the rhino that lost their lives by getting their face hacked off to fund the very thing that caused these and so many ruthless acts of terrorism that plague our lives daily.
“We should not need to have a ‘Save An Animal Day’, save from what? It is in fact save from who? It is human kindness, compassion and caring that so desperately needs to be saved.” - Paul Oxton