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Empathy over apathy: Address the solution, not just the problem

| Friday, August 30, 2019

If we’re going to discuss an apathy problem, it seems to me that we have to address the solution as well. I recognize, as Ms. Szromba points out, that there is a distinct bubble that exists and defines much of our lives on campus and our engagement with the world outside of it. But is it true that Notre Dame students are graduating “without the slightest clue of the world they’re graduating into?” Or, might it be that certain circles are unaware of points of interest in an American political landscape that seems to shift (or, to be honest, completely change) from day to day, let alone week to week?

Let’s inform voters, and encourage students to become active, educated citizens both while in undergrad and as they move beyond it. But clinging to Twitter and charging yourself with reading every article in the Washington Post for the day will not suffice. If we are to combat our apathy problem, the response has to be one of empathy. 

While it may be true that 71% of Americans responded that they do not want Roe v. Wade overturned, it is also true that Americans are now as likely to identify as pro-life as they are pro-choice. Additionally, fighting for an opinion that a minority holds does not equate to being ignorant or apathetic. Americans are also unlikely to understand what such a reversal would mean; abortion rights would return to the states, not be dissolved outright. It is also true that 79% of Americans reject late-term (third trimester) abortion. This may not make the pro-choice position untenable, but I would hope that on a campus like Notre Dame’s, it may invite students to consider attending a Right to Life event or learning more about what it is to uphold a consistent life ethic. It was that same consistent life ethic, for what it’s worth, that Right To Life celebrated at their annual club SYR: A right to life from conception to natural death or, from “womb to tomb.”

An aside: “Womb to Tomb” is far from the worst of SYR titles. See: The Great Fratsby, CEOs, etc.

Right to Life is also a club that is far from apathetic. They maintain a weekly commitment to service across campus and our community, including babysitting for graduate students, spending time with those at Holy Cross Village and more. They carry this action-oriented mission into raising money for women and children at the border and providing backpacks to children in foster care. They respond to human need with love and empathy, wherever needed.

The symbolism of plastic roses on the quad is not simply a witness to the lives lost in the wake of Roe v. Wade, or an inconvenience for any students cutting across South Quad. Rather, it is a call to precisely what I hope we can agree our campus needs: Empathy. 

It is difficult to be empathetic towards those we do not know, see or interact with. So, we might not know the name Robert Mueller, recognize the DREAM Act or vote in local elections. Similarly, we might not feel particularly inclined to know, see or interact with those for whom the roses speak. Since 1973, well over 50 million unborn children have been aborted. When you include chemical abortions, that number grows exponentially. Those unborn children were not seen, known or interacted with, and it then becomes easier to title them “clumps of cells” or “parasites” or “fetal tissue.” While roses may fail to capture the reality of their personhood, their beauty points to the beauty of every human life. They just might invite someone, for however brief a moment, to know and love a person the world did not.

Empathy goes beyond activism or mere awareness. It calls us into the lives and sufferings, not just of those we know and love, but also of those we do not know or love quite so closely. If we are to address our own apathy, perhaps we should take, and appreciate, all the opportunities for empathy we can get.

Maggie Garnett


Aug. 28

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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