Why Don’t People Care?

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Manners / Gratitude

Posted: 01/27/2010

Do you ever wonder why some people just don’t care unless it involves them? The question will be discussed at length in my book, but I want to put it out there for discussion.

Last night when I got to the gym at 8 o’clock, the locker room was packed as the after-work crowd was getting ready to head home or out on the town. I searched for some space to change, farthest away from all other humans. I finally found a corner with a little breathing room and a bench. As is often the case, a wet, used towel was on top of the bench, along with 2 wooden hangers that are usually inside of the lockers. It always amazes me that people who work out at a gym are too lazy to clean up after themselves. (Huge personal pet peeve.) I envision, Someone else will get it, going through the minds of the offenders, if anything at all. So much for leaving an area the way you’d like to find it.

After working out, I went to the very small steam room inside of the men’s locker room. There was one guy inside the steam, sitting on the left side of  the L-shaped bench that can accommodate 4 guys, max. I sat on the right side of the bench, on the opposite side, and as far away from the other guy as possible. Despite the fact that the gym is only a few years old, the temperature in the steam room is usually one extreme or the other, and very erratic. So there we were, 2 guys wrapped in towels in a cold steam room, waiting for the heat, careful not to make eye contact. The awkward silence in a steam or sauna is much worse than riding in an elevator, because it usually lasts longer. It’s even worse after you say hello and get no response, regardless of how innocuous or terse the greeting is. 

This reminds me of comedian Stephen Wright’s quip; When I was little, my grandfather used to make me stand in a closet for 5 minutes without moving. He said it was elevator practice. It could have also been steam room practice.

Finally, the tension broke as the steam came roaring on and the temperature started to climb. As the heat and humidity started to kick in, someone opened the door, didn’t even look in, and let the door close very slowly, allowing the precious heat to escape. Guy #1 and I both made noises in disgust implying, What was that? Eventually another guy (#3) walks in and Guy #1 doesn’t slide over to make room for him. I’m already sitting at the end of my bench, so there’s nowhere for me to go. Guy #3 doesn’t push the issue, and decides to stand.  Another guy walks in and hurriedly brushes by standing Guy#3, and approaches the bench #1 is on as if to say, Make room, now, without even asking the guy who was there before him if he was waiting for a seat.  Guy #1 did slide over, and eventually when he left, he let the door close slowly, instead of quickly slamming it behind him…

As I sat there in my own little world, with my head down, occasionally lifting my eyes only high enough to watch what was going on, the questions, What makes people thoughtful?,  and Why don’t some people care? came to mind. Is it really that hard to think about how we would want to be treated while interacting and/or sharing space with other human beings? Apparently, for some people it is.

As I left the locker room, I counted fourteen steps from the bench the dirty towel was on, to the closest laundry bin that I had to pass on the way out.

So much for de-stressing at the gym. I guess if it weren’t for “them” I wouldn’t have a book to write…

I’m interested to hear your experiences and theories. Thank you.


18 Responses to “Why Don’t People Care?”

  1. Mac says:

    Just imagine if everyone in the world picked up one piece of trash (and disposed of it properly) everyday.

    Just imagine if everyone did one small thing to bring a smile to someones face everyday.

    The world would be a clean and happy place to live in.

    We all care, we just don’t care about the same things.

    My job includes picking up after people eat. The mindful ones care about how they leave their table. They are probably the same ones who tip well at breakfast, or move over in a steam room. Culturally, Americans are self absorbed. We think what we are doing at any given time actually is important, when in fact, taken in the larger context of what is going on in the world, most of our actions are irrelevant and meaningless. Unless, of course, we are bringing a smile to someones face and revealing our humanity.

  2. Jenny says:

    This will make you both sad and hopeful: you are not alone.

    Stuff like this happens to me all the time. Not being a steam room with a guy who won’t shove over, of course, but the daily T commute has joys like being hit in the head with backpacks, people who shove me out of the way to be the first on the train, commuters who put their bag on the seat next to them, and why why WHY would people on the 57 bus rather cram together at the front door than walk to the back of the bus where there’s plenty of standing room… We won’t even get into the people at Starbucks when I’m getting coffee, the cars that nearly kill me while they’re running red lights, and coworkers who refuse to work together so they won’t have to share any accolades when the project becomes successful.

    And that was just today.

    Sometimes this stuff makes me absolutely furious. I’ll admit, there are days (too many days) I come home and cry out of sheer frustration and hurt feelings. Who are these people? Why are there so many of them? And why doesn’t this bother any of them, when it bothers me so much?

    I don’t know why people don’t care. All I can hope is that those of us who do will, through example or reproduction or maybe some kind of formal class, one day outnumber those who don’t.

  3. Mary Beth says:

    In every aspect of life – if people would be considerate of one and other there would be so much less stress and aggravation in the world.

    I still have hope. Lead by example, I guess thats all we can do.

  4. deborah says:

    people forget how to say “excuse me” and there is no excuse for that. they’re in such a rush to get on with their precious lives that they don’t care about ours. they walk past us like we don’t exist. we have places to go. we have people to see. a simple “excuse me” or “excuse me, please” really goes a long way. stop being bullies and pushing your way through life and take the time to acknowledge the human being next to you (perhaps with a smile). you could possibly make someone’s day!

  5. Paul Maguire says:

    I’m witness to the behaviors you describe everywhere I go! I’m frequently on the road in my RV and see things like drivers that I wave-on or let cut-in…ignore me w/no acknowledgement of the favor! One many may not know about is the “headlamp flash” where…when a trucker is passing, the driver he’s passing flashes headlamps to let trucker know he can safely move back into inside lane and there’s enough room to do so…in front of you (me). The appropriate response once the passing truck is safely in lane is for him/her to flash back tail lights in same pattern (click, click-click) to vehicle passed. When I don’t get an acknowledgement I usually say out-loud – “Taker!”

    Anyway, these behaviors are possible porthole views into the soul for other, maybe more substantial issues like being a good neighbor and friend – loyalty, trust and respect as core values in action.

    Dr. Hank

  6. Micaela says:

    I like to think that if you are kind to people they will be kind back. This is of course not always the case but I like to keep trying out my theory. Most of the time I think people’s self absorption is their downfall and if you gently remind them that there are other people in the world with thoughts and feelings it goes a long way. I have this little experiment I do to people who walk in the restaurant and respond to my “hello, how are you” with “we have a reservation” or “table for two” : I just say hello again and wait. The look on their faces when they realize they need to stop thinking about themselves for a moment and acknowledge another human being is priceless.

  7. Doug Mannen says:

    Manners are one of the more neglected areas of daily life, much to the detriment of us all. Good manners and little courtesies seem like such an insignificant thing, but I’m convinced that they really add up. Saying thank you or holding an elevator or letting somebody in to a busy line of traffic all take very little effort, but any and all of those things, as well as countless others like them, go a long way towards making someone else’s day a little brighter and get the snowball of niceness rolling downhill. Thank you for bringing this very important topic to light. By the way, I have not yet copyrighted “Snowball of Niceness” so feel to use it in any way you see appropriate…

  8. carpe bliss says:

    I really love the “lead by example” comments! These discussions are so important because the negative behaviors of those who “don’t get it or just don’t care” really do impact all of us everyday!! I often wonder, what is it going to take to make some
    people aware that it really tuly IS NOT ALL ABOUT THEM???!!!!

    I think we all have a responsibility in our homes, schools, churches,work environments, social circles to educate by example as others have referenced here and to call each other out when behavior is inappropriate.

    We have to be accountable and hold others as well to an honest code of ethical, moral, civil and decent behavior–The best technology in the world cannot replace this Human Factor— we are all here on the planet together…with or without our blackberries,backpacks,iphones, ipods !!

    I was at my routine Dunkin Donut stop @7:00AM last week and the lovely, hard working young woman behind the counter was stressed and anxious because the card swiping machine was on the blink and she could not reach the support # until 8:00 am…. I had my bank card in my hand and an older gentleman/customer in front of me happened to notice that I was holding my credit card and gestured me to please place my order as he had cash on him… (I didn’t have any cash.) I felt like I had won the lottery and I will never forget the look on his face — you could just see the twinkle in his eyes… the pure JOY that came from extending this kind gesture at the coffee counter!!

    Amazing how 1 cup of java/ kindness could make such a difference!

  9. nina says:

    It is the feeling of entitlement that fuels most rude people to continue to be so. Cell phones are that added bonus that places the person on the phone in the place where he or she is more important than the person standing in front of him. If someone is talking/chatting on their phone when they expect to be waitied upon I wait until I get a reaction and then sweetly say “Oh, were you speaking to me?” It usually gets them to hang up. I am sick of being treated like I don’t count as a human being!

  10. sailorboy says:

    I think most people feel completely powerless and insignificant in their lives — cogs in the machine. They feel beat up every day. The government, the unions, and the corporations ratify this aaallll the time: you’re lucky to have a job, money is more important than people’s lives,etc. At the core it translates so: You’re life has no meaning except as it’s reflected in my own. I think that engenders a bitterness deeper than hatred. Naturally petty power is cherished as an antidote, a kind of revenge. So is apathy. No one cares about me, so why should I care about anyone else, and so on. I feel sorry for these miserable bastards and I’m glad my life doesn’t center around getting in front of you to make my day have meaning. I always think of something I heard in a bad movie in the 80′s: “Never let the fact that they are doing it wrong keep you from doing it right.”

  11. Chris Harris says:

    Why don’t people care when someone dies? At my work, I am always asked to contribute everytime someone’s distant relative, etc. dies. Last week, my granddaughter’s husband and the father of my two precious great-grandchildren died. He was only 22. I had one person from work attend the wake. The rest didn’t even send a sympathy card. I am a very caring person and always there for everyone. They didn’t call to ask how we were, send cards, nothing. These two precious children are left without a father and even though we didn’t expect money for the mother to help get over this time, a card, or a call would have been nice. What’s wrong with people? Yet they were all asking around to the one person who attended the wake about how it happened, trying to get the latest gossip, etc. I have worked at this place for 14 1/2 years and have been contributing the whole time and even contribute to people I don’t know at work. What gives?

  12. Dave Patterson says:

    All these examples boil down to one key theme….”Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” This is such a simple concept, but so few follow it regularly. I’m am not a religious person, but this Christian belief is nothing more than common sense to me. I travel a lot for business, quite often with colleagues, who happen to also be some of my closest friends. This happens when you work for the same company for 21 years. I can’t even count the number of times however, that they have disappointed me while interacting with other human beings who happen to be in the service industry. My biggest pet peeve is how taxi cab drivers are treated, particularly those from foreign countries. I regularly see close friends, who I know to be kind and caring people, make the most offensive and sometimes racist comments to cab drivers. I never let it pass, and make it very clear how disappointed I am in their actions, but it doesn’t seem to change behavior. I have on occasion apologized for the behavior to the cab driver, and gotten out of the cab (paying the amount currently on the meter) leaving my colleagues to deal with the remainder of the trip on their own. It has taken a long time, but I feel confident in saying that I have changed the behavior of a couple individuals, but not enough, and it was too long coming. This is not an offense that is limited to my circle of business colleagues, as I know it exists everywhere. If anyone has seen an episode or two of the popular CBS series “Amazing Race”, you will see this behavior exhibited by contestants all over the world. Because you’re paying a couple of bucks to have someone drive you to a desired location, you somehow also have the right to deride and degrade the individual driving the car. I don’t get it!

  13. Noelle says:

    Ay one time I was working at a very upscale NYC bar. A man came in and sat down at the bar with me and proceeded to be the meanest, obnoxious individual that I’d dealt with in many years. I took a long hard look at him and said ” Your alarm clock clearly didn’t go off this morning. You hit your shin on the bedrail. You spilled coffee on your shirt and had to change clothes. You got into a fight with your wife for not picking up the dry cleaning. Then you were late for work. Your boss yelled at you. All in all, you’ve had the worst day ever. AND, you just tried to dump All of that on me. No thanks, I’m Full, None for me.” and walked away to restock something and leave the bar. Before leaving, I noticed the look on his face go from Shocked and Furious to thoughtful and slightly embarrassed . He left a $20 on the bar and never returned…

  14. Annonymouse says:

    Quote: “Culturally, Americans are self absorbed.”

    Everyone seems to live in this almost opaque bubble comprised of selfish wants and day to day responsibilities. We don’t even communicate with each other even though we might be standing in the same room or sitting on the same couch. Rather, We communicate through channels of electronic stimulation and revel in our immediate gratifications.

    Its like at some point we, as humans, stopped maturing mentally and in doing so, forgot what it means to be “human” and the significance in that.

    I stopped asking “why don’t they care? Why don’t they ever say, Please or Thank you, or Excuse me.” Because I found that it wasn’t worth wasting the energy.

    Too many years working on the other side of the counter and in an office I guess.

    When I decided that, I promised myself that I would instead use that energy to show those that buss my tables, Serve my food, check out my groceries, or whatever service I need, that in a sea that seems so shallow, there is some depth still out there.

  15. Philip says:

    We have to work harder to TEACH the lesson, get involved and ‘tell off ‘ each and every person who disappoints you. I would consider the author of this article a hypocrite, someone who complains but then does nothing to break the cycle, indeed you think you ‘care’ but you do not care enough to open your mouth and tell such people how ignorant they are or how thoughtless they are. Until we all take a moment to do this NOTHING changes, including ourselves. Next time it happens SAY SOMETHING, TEACH the person how to be more caring or thoughtful, then you will care more, and they just might too, that’s the issue. NO ONE HAS THE GONADS TO TEACH the lesson intelligently. People just complain instead, it’s the human condition.

    If you see something, SAY something, that will create CHANGE.

  16. Grace says:

    I think people don’t care is because we are always thinking to ourselves and what am I going to need and stuff that our thoughts are transferred to our actions. Also it’s people don’t feel like getting up off their lazy asses if it doesn’t make things better for them. The human populations issue is that were so into buying benificial stock or having a boyfriend who is good in bed or having a job that payed lots of money that we totally forget to invest and buy stock in good human relation ships and trying to figure out why people act the way they do. We just don’t care about what’s truly important because were selfishand sewhere on the line that’s gona bite us in the ass.

  17. mike says:

    all this is about love.people are not loving.very few are considerate enough to think and know that others exist.god is love and considering the welfare of other humans is a measure of love which is lacking in many people.all the talk about religion is about love but unfortunately the greatest number of people on earth are not loving,instead they are selfish and dont care if what they are doing is disturbing the life of another person.we can do what we can in the way of pointing out to the people involved but there are times that one is so overwhelmed or frustrated to keep on trying to change people.thats why i so much like god and the law of retribution.where everyone gets what he deserves.so lets take solace in the fact that god is in control,and everyone gets what he deserves when the time comes.

  18. justawoman says:

    I wonder why people don’t care, and why, fairly often lately.
    I wonder … have they been taught not to?
    And who or what taught them not to?
    sometimes it seems to come down to commercialism or capitalism even.
    I donno.
    I was taught at a very tender age…to be polite…to be considerate…by my mother and grandmother and by my Church. Not everyone has this.Not everyone is religious. That’s okay. but then — maybe it is time we as a community or as a nation make a required class or course that starts in kindergarten and first, second, third grade…required for everyone – everywhere — how to care, how to be polite, how to be courteous, etc. It won’t solve everything, but it would be a good start.

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