When I got an awful cold my freshman year, University Health Services provided me with enough cough syrup to start my own pharmacy. When I returned with pinkeye, they gave me antibiotics. When norovirus hit, they shrink-wrapped the food in the dining halls. BC students have generous access to medical care and precautions, but I’m concerned we don’t pay enough attention to the fastest-spreading disease on campus: apathy.
This vicious little bug is easy to catch, difficult to get rid of, and goes straight for the heart. It comes in lots of strains, some of them seasonal (the middle-of-February strain, the two-in-the-morning-on-a-weeknight strain), but its most prolific time is the summer—which is why I want to talk about it now, in the last column of the year.
Apathy is one of the only diseases that almost always has to be self-diagnosed in order to be beaten. Each of us can see the symptoms in ourselves to some degree: investing little effort in everyday conversation, reading half an article and giving up, making jokes about situations we know are serious, staying awake into the early hours for no reason, scrolling through social media without retaining information, devoting only half our attention to the people around us. The list goes on. You know it when you feel it—or, more accurately, when you don’t feel anything.
But why is this mindset so rampant? As college students, we’re as busy as anyone; if schoolwork doesn’t keep us occupied, entertainment will (think of all the time and preparation poured into Marathon Monday, for example). And yet it seems like we’re ambivalent to both these things. We wait for each minute of class to go by, but after the weekend is over, I hear plenty of conversations between people who don’t seem excited about what they did with their free time. I’ve even heard people talk this way about their relationships.
I don’t know if the explanation for this is too complicated: we haven’t found underlying meaning, underlying passion to animate our day-to-day routines. If we do have it, even the mundane aspects of our lives light up; if we don’t, even the most important parts—careers, relationships—fall flat.
So what can we do to keep ourselves healthy during apathy season? University Health Services, believe it or not, has already given some decent advice in their instructions for avoiding the flu. Here are some slightly modified regulations:
1. Don’t cover your mouth. Apathy is extremely contagious. You’re likely to pass it on to your friends and loved ones—so, especially when interacting with others, be creative. Ask active questions. Bring up something controversial. Prevent the spread of indifference.
2. Clean surfaces regularly. Like termites, rodents, and almost everything else unpleasant, apathy thrives in a dirty environment. Organize your stuff—take a look at old notebooks and photos, reminisce, and get rid of stuff you don’t need. Cleanliness is not next to godliness, but maybe it’s next to clear-headedness.
3. Do not stay home if you show symptoms. The worst thing you can do for yourself when you slip into apathy is to stay home and rest. Get moving—to a park or a bookstore or a friend’s house.
4. Do not drink lots of fluids. It’s a lot easier to fight apathy sober.
Fixing this problem isn’t as easy as simply taking up a new hobby or moving to a new place. An enthusiasm for swimming or photography or music, by themselves, won’t be enough to get to the roots of apathy—that would be like fixing leprosy with a box of band-aids. Indifference sinks deep; it’s almost genetic. That said, keeping ourselves intentionally (and not evasively) active is a good way to start to discover the truth and the beauty that will beat apathy.
The key here is to be selective: instead of getting swept up in the incredible number of choices available to us, we have to restrict ourselves in some way. I’m going to learn a perfect breaststroke this summer. Or, I’m going to take a picture of each sunset. Or, I’m going to write an entire musical about a Founding Father. If we pick one thing and get excited about it—really search for what it is that draws us to it—that’s the beginning of a great discovery. By the end of the summer, if we can start to answer the question, Why is this beautiful to me?, we’ll know we’re in remission.
Have a good summer, and stay healthy—there’s no vaccine for apathy.