The Dangers of Minding Your Own Business

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MINDING YOUR OWN BUSINESS seems to be an action held in high esteem. It is seen as a good trait – staying out of conflict, not causing trouble: with no involvement comes no controversy. Furthermore, as well as socially acceptable it seems to have become socially expected. If you don’t ‘mind your own business’ you can be labelled as nosy, self-righteous, holier-than-thou. Is this social caution, however, really something to be idealised?

Apathy: the modern day Liberalism.

Indeed, two examples of people exercising this social caution or apathy have recently been put under the media spotlight. The first concerns the death of a Chinese toddler, Yue Yue, who was run over by a van in the industrial city of Foshdan in China and whose body was left bleeding in the middle of the street ignored by almost twenty people who subsequently passed by.

China was widely condemned as a country of fading morals when the story surfaced; its population deemed emotionally deadened to problems that aren’t their own due to the country’s political make up. It was ironic, then, that whilst the Western world cited China’s communist regime as the cause of its moral decay, it was an image from Italy that shocked the world next.

Two Roma sisters, aged 16 and 14, tragically drowned in the sea just off Naples. Their lifeless bodies, once recovered, were loosely covered with a towel on the beach, and then people went back to sunbathing. The bodies remained there all day.

The bodies of the sisters, Cristina and Violetta.

Whilst this event highlights tensions between the Italian people and the Roma (essentially the Italian equivalent of travellers), it also shows that disturbing levels of apathy are not isolated to certain regimes. Indeed, in this very country almost a year ago to date, the people of Northampton watched on passively as six men armed with sledgehammers attempted to break into a high street jewellers. It was left to a 71 year old grandmother, Ann Timson, to break up the robbery through running the full stretch of the high street before proceeding to violently swing her handbag at the thieves.

Ann Timson’s Divine Intervention.

Minding your own business, therefore, has been shown to carry no moral force whatsoever when you are confronted with a situation that demands moral action. The above examples, however, are all rather extreme. I am sure we would all like to think that if we had been in any of the situations then we would have intervened, and it is clear that in these situations we would not hold minding your own business in the high regard that we usually do.

The disdain we hold for passivity with regards to the examples above, however, quickly dissolves when we consider smaller-scale scenarios. Indeed, instead of rejecting passivity and apathy when considering friendships and normal social interaction, we tend to embrace them. In our day-to-day maintenance of relationships with others we encounter many opportunities where we could act to change things but choose not to out of some kind of social fear. Everyday, whether consciously or unconsciously, we form moral judgements on the behaviour of our acquaintances. The problem is that we either don’t ponder on these judgements (and therefore never really have anything much to say on them), or that we simply don’t express these judgements – and this is usually to avoid exposure and judgement from others.

Consider a long-term disagreement that has run between two of your friends. It is often the case that you will find yourself entertaining both parties, rather than coming down in support of one side. This, when it comes right down to it, is not done out of loyalty, it is not done for moral reasons; it is done purely to benefit yourself. Rather than risk social exposure in expressing your own judgements, you can cruise along in the bulletproof armour of ‘I’m just minding my own business, it’s not my place to say anything, I shouldn’t get involved.’ Phrases such as ‘I don’t have a right to say anything’ do not express moral thoughtfulness or modesty or self-sacrifice; rather they are deflections exemplifying the upmost moral laziness. People are more concerned with how their own image comes across socially than they are with any kind of system of justice or morality, of right and wrong.

Causes of this social and moral apathy inherent within our day-to-day social interaction can be found in the disproportionate value we attribute to tolerance. Our obsession with tolerance and political correctness has spiralled so far out of control that anything seen as limiting individual freedom is labelled as oppressive. No one would argue that the law prohibiting murder is oppressive, yet when it comes to moral crimes that do not have a law corresponding to them, such as cheating, betrayal and lying, we shy away from condemnation, preferring to use phrases such as ‘that’s just what he’s like’ or ‘that’s just how she is’. Some behaviour in fact deserves widespread condemnation, yet anyone who stands up and expresses the judgements we all silently make in our heads is shouted down with ‘it’s not your place to say that’. If it is not our place as fellow humans to comment on one another’s behaviour, then whose is it?

Indeed, just because I have to respect the views of others does not mean I also have to agree with those views. Expressing contrasting judgements can lead to troublesome situations; but I’d prefer to be in a troublesome situation than a meaningless one – how are we expected to progress without interacting with one another? There is no overarching, strict moral code with which we can give reference to; there is inherent within all of us, however, surely at least a vague idea of right and wrong. It is through sharing our ideas and judgements that we can come closer to finding an objective moral ground. Cowardly refraining from judging others, cruising along in a coat of apathy-armour – it is a waste of a human brain. Besides, a friend who tolerates all of your behaviour is surely of less use than a friend who puts you right when you are wrong.

So, next time you see someone you know behaving in a way you think is out of order – call them out on it, even if it doesn’t concern you. Don’t live in cautious fear of being judged for being judgemental, don’t live with apathy as your ideal; for if we stop judging one another for moral crimes, similarly to how we have ceased intervention in physical crime, then we may as well move back into the jungle.

A world of no judgements: the animal within us would run riot.
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I am currently a second year student at Southampton University studying English and philosophy.

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