Lately, something troubling has been happening with Roshan: he will sit down to coffee and the daily news, see the headlines about war, terrorism and corruption and he will find himself unmoved. That he is now unconcerned doesn’t concern him in a felt sense; he just knows, rationally, that it’s something he should be concerned about. He books an appointment to see a psychotherapist, whose office is on the upper floor of the local mall.
“Were you similarly apathetic as a child?” the psychotherapist, a Dr. Ivan Suarez, asks.
“No,” Roshan says. “I used to be very idealistic and opinionated.”
“How so? How did you express your thoughts and convictions?”
“I wrote letters to newspapers. I joined rallies. I participated in debates. I majored in Political Science.”
“And what do you think happened now?”
“I think that I’ve been seeing the same kind of news, over and over again for a very long time. So much that I’ve become used to it.”
“What you’re experiencing is common the world over. People don’t tend to get affected much by events happening far away from them, wherever they are.”
“I’ve become used to it, moreso.” Roshan repeats.
“Familiarity doesn’t only breed contempt,” Dr. Suarez says gently. “It can also breed apathy and indifference.”
Roshan paused. “I just think that apathy isn’t too far off from actually abetting the acts I read about.”
Dr. Suarez writes in his notepad, then rises. “I have something I’d like you to read.” He walks toward the filing cabinet at the corner of the room and opens it. “A column by Harun Siddiqui. Have you heard of him?”
“Yeah. He’s the editor-in-chief of the Daily.”
“Right. I clipped this out recently.” Dr. Suarez hands Roshan a newspaper clipping. “Pay attention to his conclusion.”
The column was Siddiqui’s response to news of a terrorist group’s recent infiltration of a boys’ military school in Pakistan, where one hundred and forty-two schoolboys were murdered when the terrorists opened fire during the school’s morning assembly. Siddiqui compared the act to atrocities that were happening around the world and ended his column by stating “the world can help by understanding the complexities at play.”
“I-I don’t agree with Harun Siddiqui here at all, Dr. Suarez,” Roshan stammers.
“What don’t you agree with?”
“He says we must ‘understand the complexities at play’. To me that means ‘we must understand the reasons why the terrorists believed they must murder one hundred and forty…two children.’”
“I don’t think he is saying that we must ‘understand it’ in the sense of allowing it,” Dr. Suarez explains. “He is just saying that there are complex contextual reasonings behind the horrific events we see in the world today. You, as a Political Science graduate, would know about these reasonings…”
“Yes but here, ‘complex’ sounds like an excuse.”
Dr. Suarez pauses. “The lesson here Roshan, in what Siddiqui is trying to say, is that things are rarely ever as black-or-white as we want them to be, or how we think they should be. The world and people are full of gray area, and it would serve us well to understand this.”
It serves your practice well to understand that too, I’m sure, Roshan thinks. ‘Understand’. He feels a sense of mistrust about the word. There’s too much standing under in it.
Roshan declines the receptionist’s offer to book a second appointment with Dr. Suarez. He takes the elevator down to the first floor of the mall. He watches as shoppers move about. People, like him, don’t seem to be affected by the same kind of news either. They don’t seem to be anything but…normal. They are still shopping at high-end shops and sitting in the patios of coffee houses. They still eat out and order dessert. Maybe they too, Roshan thinks, understand.