February 24, 2020

True Compassion Calls for Political Awareness: Recognizing that Being “Uninterested” in Politics is Privilege

posted on: Thursday January 16, 2020

On September 21, 2017 PC hosted a DACA discussion panel. Attending events like these,
when the College hosts them, is a great way to stay informed. Laura Chadbourne ’20/The Cowl.

 

by Andrea Traietti ’21

Opinion Co-Editor

If you are in a position where you can truthfully say “politics just don’t interest me,” or “I just don’t really care about politics,” then you are lucky.

You are lucky because you have the privilege of not having to worry about how decisions made in Washington, D.C., sometimes behind closed doors, will affect the most major parts of your life: your job security, your ability to remain living in your home, and your health, just to name a few.

If you are in this privileged position where, for the most part, the decisions made by the federal government will not affect your basic well-being, you might have found yourself at one point or another completely disinterested in politics. You feel no urgency to read or watch the news, the incessant New York Times updates on your phone really just kind of annoy you, and the minute politics come up at the dinner table, you mutter that you just cannot be bothered anymore.

In today’s political climate especially, it can be easy to fall into this trap of disengagement and disinterest. Indeed, it seems as though politicians are more interested in bickering than passing any actual legislation or getting anything done, so what is the point in paying attention?

But we need to identify this mindset for what it really is: a trap, and a dangerous one at that. To just not care about politics is, on a basic level, choosing ignorance, and that is an obvious problem when considering the fact that we, as voters, are supposed to make informed decisions.

But on another, more serious level, not caring about politics is choosing selfishness. It is choosing the path of least compassion.

This is because, while you have the privilege of being able to disengage from politics, many people in this country and on this campus—in fact, more people than we might realize—do not have that privilege. Many people have no choice but to care, and to care deeply, because the decisions made by bickering politicians will determine their access to healthcare, their ability to earn citizenship or stay in this country, their employment rights.

So, to say that we “don’t care” or “aren’t interested” in politics is to say we do not care what happens to the people who are affected by the decisions politicians make—the people who have to care.

As a country, we should not be accepting of this mindset. A country that espouses the belief that all people are created equal should also believe in caring about, and for, all people equally.

Moreover, as a campus and as a student-body, we have a special perspective, and a special responsibility, to promote this kind of compassion. Father Brian Shanley, O.P.’s, message to students and faculty on December 11, 2019 embodied the kind of awareness and response we ought to share as a campus.

In this email, Fr. Shanley emphasized Providence College’s continued support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals  (DACA), and those on this campus who are recipients of the program. He outlined the Catholic Church’s position on immigration and concluded his email with the sentiment that “compassion and care for the most vulnerable and marginalized is a moral imperative at the heart of our faith.”

Fr. Shanley’s message was powerful in that it served as a reminder not just that there are people on this campus who are being directly affected by the decisions of the current administration, but that the rest of us have a responsibility to support those in need.

This responsibility stretches beyond just DACA or the issue of immigration, as Catholic teaching tells us broadly to love our neighbor. Not just our neighbor who looks like us or lives like us, or the neighbor who shares our same interests and our same struggles. We have a responsibility to show this compassion to each and every neighbor: to our neighbor who is a DACA recipient, who cannot afford healthcare, who is a victim of the opioid crisis, or who is facing any kind of obstacle that is being driven by public policy—by decisions largely beyond their control.

The best way to do this is simply to care about the people facing these kinds of problems, about their well-being and their futures. But we can only care about others when we understand the extent of what they are going through—when we pay attention to the issues and the things at stake, and at least try to put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes.

In the end, this is our responsibility. When so much of what so many people are dealing with is being determined in Washington, D.C., we must make a concerted effort to care about politics if we want to be able to care about other people.

Though staying engaged with and interested in politics seems to grow more challenging each day, when it comes down to it, loving our neighbor is not a choice—and, therefore, neither is paying attention to the world around you.

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