I was struck by a conversation that my friend had the other day. Like me, she identifies herself as part of the “green” scene, someone who cares about and advocates for the environment on Penn’s campus. She is a Wharton student, and she was recently talking to another Wharton student about her environmental interests. He responded with this: “That’s nice, but I don’t have time to care about the environment. I sold my soul to Joseph Wharton.”
Someone’s first reaction might be to laugh this off and proclaim, “Classic Wharton!” My immediate reaction was anger and disbelief. Though others have told me he was probably joking, there’s something to be said about this careless display of apathy that seems to permeate throughout our everyday actions and conversations.
This might have been a joke, but there is a problematic undercurrent of truth in his words — that our self-driven interests to secure that high-paying job or immerse ourselves in impressive extracurriculars goes above caring about the environment, or the world around us.
At Penn, we love to keep ourselves busy. Or at least, we love to say we’re busy — counting off the assignments we have due that week, the meetings we have to go to, the jobs we’re applying for. It often feels like a competition we constantly sustain ourselves in.
The illusion that we do not even have enough time to stop by a table on Locust Walk and learn about the Fossil Free Penn movement or even a club’s upcoming dance show is something we like to pride ourselves on. And it means that we diminish the value of being an aware, conscientious person.
By buying into the culture of constant busyness, we choose to deny the value of the little actions that we can do to improve our environment effectively and immediately. These actions could be as simple as eating everything on our plates at Commons to reduce food waste or attending a campus-wide discussion on the aftermath of the 2016 election.
The excuses of “selling one’s soul to Wharton” or being “too busy” are invalid — regardless of the responsibilities one has, there is always time to be respectful and aware of the Earth and the people around us. There is always time to care. It’s our responsibility to care.
After my first year on campus, I realized that apathy at Penn does not only stop at environmental concerns. We live in a bubble, albeit a comfortable, cozy bubble, but a bubble that sometimes seems to ignore the community around us.
The concerns of West Philadelphia seem foreign, let alone the current events of the world. Even within our own bubble, we are often solely interested in our own pursuits, barely giving a glance at discussions, protests, and events on campus that don’t directly pertain to us. It’s easy to mark “interested” on Facebook events and not go, and even easier to choose the path of not doing anything at all.
Beyond college, apathy is a real and seemingly insurmountable challenge. Environmental apathy, political apathy, social apathy, these are all dangerous obstacles to progress in our country. Though we may view self-interest as necessary to our success, the consequences of choosing to be apathetic — environmental destruction, political turmoil, social injustice — ultimately outweigh the benefits we accrue.
The least we can do is start advocating for the issues we care about and listening to the concerns of others now, in a college campus and space receptive to intellectual discussion and change. It’s not only about hosting huge rallies or movements; it’s the small things that count, too. Reaching out to a friend, participating in a discussion, catching up on current events — all these minute actions make a world of difference.
So I guess what I have to say to the kid who sold his soul is this: it doesn’t matter if you have 5 meetings to go to tonight or 10 papers due tomorrow — you have time to turn off the lights when you leave the room, throw recyclables in the recycling bin, and pay attention to the world around you.
JESSICA LI is a College sophmore from Livingston, N.J., studying English and psychology.
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