Even more than hatred and anger, apathy (in my opinion) is one of the worst concepts this world has seen. Very few people are both so hate-filled and powerful that they can impact the world in any substantial way; and even when they do, typically, that hate could have been stopped if it weren’t for the millions of people apathetically assuming someone else will take care of it.
The visionaries in this world always seem so few: Harvey Milk, JFK, Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, Susan B. Anthony, Mother Teresa, Elizabeth Cady Stanton…. these people looked at the world and saw the same things everyone else saw, but they weren’t afraid to question what they saw and take action to change the world into something that they believed was better. Its easy to sit back and praise these great men and women for helping to reduce prejudice, sexism, oppression, homophobia, and so much more in the world… but I don’t want you to stop there.
I have a theory, its a simple one but its powerful, I believe that we are all visionaries and if it weren’t for apathy we’d be out their changing the world right now! Its so easy to see something wrong with the world today (like the denials of gay rights, the glass ceiling, poverty, or war) and get angry about it; but how often do we take that anger, past ranting and raving to our friends and family, and actually march it out onto the streets to make noise and get noticed?
I watched Milk for the second time on Sunday and found myself, during a moderated discussion after, literally shaking with anger. Although some of that shaking came about due to the large amount of Civil Rights that we still deny to gay men and women today, even though Harvey Milk died fighting for those rights, most of the shaking came from anger at myself. After I had seen Milk the first time I was incensed, I wanted to protest, I wanted to petition, I wanted to change the world… less than a week later I had moved onto something else. I know its not healthy to hold onto anger, yet at the same time letting it go gets nothing accomplished… I was mad that I had let myself fall into apathy, like so many of us do.
We have to turn our anger against apathy, and transform it into empathy and determination; empathy to help us understand the needs of those who are oppressed and held back, and determination to keep us from giving into the overwhelming hopelessness that comes from knowing you can’t help everyone or make everyone agree with you.
Harvey Milk is the perfect example of a normal man, a man just like you and me, who gave up on a life of apathy and threw himself into the public arena to fight for the rights of gay people across the United States. He wasn’t wealthy, he wasn’t a politician, he wasn’t anything more than an average man until one day he decided to change his little part of the world… and look at the impact he had. Although we may not live in a country that gives full rights to gay people yet Harvey Milk brought these people further out into the open, he gave a face to the movement, and he made a difference. More than anything, Harvey Milk gave people hope.
All I ask of you today is that you do what Harvey Milk and so many others have done… ask yourself: whats stopping me from changing the world? Then, once you’ve answered throw all of those reasons out, they don’t matter because the facts are if you’re passionate enough, you will find a way to make a difference regardless of any limitations you might perceive. Say no to apathy, if only just for a moment, and see how it feels to know that you have the power to change the world by joining a cause or even starting your own.
As Ghandi says, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”