Monday, January 22, 2007

Indifference is a Killer

Have you ever wondered if you could be a hero? Generally, heroes are tested in crisis and war. They usually don’t have split level homes, mortgages and RRSP’s.

However, even those of us with boring bourgeois existences can save lives. By taking a simple cheek swab, we can vault into the pantheon of life saving heroes. Registering in the Gift of Life Registry puts one into a database of potential bone marrow donors. These donors can save the lives of patients fighting leukemia and lymphoma for years into the future.

Remarkably, it is a struggle to get people to register in the Gift of Life. Even when presented with an opportunity for effortless heroism, many people still look the other way. And unfortunately, because of this indifference, lives will not be saved. Simply put, indifference is a killer.

What makes people so indifferent? Community does. When more than one person can assume responsibility for something, each one mentally shifts responsibility to the others. The Talmud notes that “a pot of partners is neither hot nor cold”, ( i.e. the pot is neglected) and each partner assumes the other one will take the initiative to heat the food for the meal, or cool the food for storage. In a community setting, it’s easy for each person to dump responsibility on “someone else”.

Sociologists call this type of apathy the “bystander effect”. Good people rely on others to respond, and don’t bother to get involved. The indifference of the “bystander effect” can be deadly. In the famous 1964 Kitty Genovese murder in Kew Gardens, New York, Kitty’s neighbors heard her scream for help but did nothing. Each bystander assumed that someone else had already called the police.

The evil produced by indifference is enormous. On the world stage, genocide is ignored, because it’s another country’s responsibility. As Jews, we remember how the allies closed their doors to Jewish immigration before World War II, and did virtually nothing to stop the Holocaust. And today, a genocide is taking place in Darfur, and the world sits by idly. As the English statesman-philosopher Edmund Burke put it: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Heroism doesn’t require a military conflagration or international crisis. To become a real hero, the first thing you have to do is shake off indifference. You have to be willing to accept the community’s responsibility as your own, and step up to the plate.

A Gift of Life donor registration drive is taking place in Montreal on Sunday, February 18th, at the CJA building. Among the patients seeking bone marrow transplants is Amy Katz, a beautiful sweet 13 year old girl from the Pittsburgh area. A few minutes of your time can save Amy’s life.

Will you be indifferent, or will you be a hero? Amy’s life depends on your answer.

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