Skip to content

Don’t let apathy stifle compassion

Opinion Editorial By Joan Fisk Published in The Waterloo Record & The Hamilton Spectator

If we want to solve problems in our community, we’ve got to care.

This seems like a truism. Countless of us – friends, neighbours, colleagues – care about our communities with every fibre of our being.

Yet, the numbers are not backing this up. As complex needs in our community grow — with increasing food insecurity due to a 28 per cent rise in costs from 2019; a dire lack of housing thanks in part to a 141 per cent rise in the cost of rent over the past 17 years; cuts to our public healthcare system; escalating mental health challenges; skyrocketing incidences of gender-based violence; an opioid crisis sweeping the globe – the community’s support to tackle these crises is shrinking.

At United Way, our network helps to fund local charities and non-profits in Waterloo Region. This quarter, we received 81 grant applications requesting $2,417,947 in funds – yet we were only able to fund 58 of these grants, to a tune of $702,026. This story – need exceeding charitable capacity – mirrors a worsening national trend, where, according to Statistics Canada, total charitable donations dropped by 10 per cent last year, continuing an 11-year spiral.

The cause? According to a 2024 CanadaHelps Report, “this decline in the percentage of Canadians giving to charity transcended economic landscapes – recessions, surging growth, pandemics, or inflationary spikes.” Philanthropic “paralysis” is caused by feelings of social disconnection, alienation, or as it is frequently called, apathy.

Apathy is a sense of hopelessness or indifference felt when thinking about the social, political, and economic systems governing our society. Studies show that apathy is fuelled by skyrocketing stress levels, and today, as the drums of upcoming elections beat ever louder – with a presidential election only months away in the United States, and with debates over a potential Canadian Federal election becoming commonplaceapathy, or simply tuning out – becomes a defense against mental exhaustion.

The problem is that apathy breaks the bonds of social cohesion and action that fuel our desire to help others and make change occur. Apathy is toxic to community compassion.

The solution? Regardless of our stresses and frustrations, we must agree that helping those most in need is something that transcends politics and economics, and betters our Region as whole.

Compassion must always be our concerted response to indifference.

At United Way, we are bound together by the knowledge that current crises have wide-reaching systemic roots, and they must be tackled and solved collectively – by all persons, races, religions, cultures, and political allegiances, making small contributions together that add up to big differences.

If each of us makes even a small effort to show we care, the results will be spectacular. The social and economic health of our community rests upon all of our shoulders, supporting neighbours that need help and the organizations providing it.  

The first step we must take together on this path is to change our mindset. To recognize that apathy is not an option if we want our community to be healed. Embracing empathy and compassion is a conscious choice we must make.

Secondly, understanding the complexities of poverty and other interrelated crises must be met with action. Any movement, from volunteering time at a non-profit organization, to helping raise funds for a noble cause, only increases personal understanding and knowledge to share with others, but boosts feelings of self-worth, well-being, and rebuilds the community bonds that apathy destroys.

Finally, from empathy and action, comes hope. Even on our most frustrating days, we must remain hopeful that, despite whatever political turmoil or fractious issues that might emerge, we must not lose sight of how our shared connections as human beings and neighbours living together are amplified through charity, volunteerism, and compassion.

Waterloo Region cares. We must transform the rise of apathy into a fuel to reignite our drive to work together to help others. Empathy, action, and hope, create a rising tide that lifts all boats. Small gestures made by many today, will add up to a greater community, tomorrow.

We must not let apathy stifle compassion.

By Joan Fisk

CEO of United Way Waterloo Region Communities