Apathetic Tendencies in the Modern Family Man

During the month of January, five different men are contributing guest posts in our "The Family Man that Follows Jesus" series. It will give me a month off, so I can spend time with my growing family, and I am really excited to personally learn from the series myself.

This week, Mark Benson, Board Member of First Baptist Church in Minneapolis and Chief Technology Officer at Exocitehas written about how the tendency toward apathy that exists in the modern family man. He also provides a framework for how we can move forward as men. Mark has become a great friend and I am thankful for his investment at First Baptist Church and his leadership within his own family. A more complete bio of Mark is available at the end of the post.

Bystander Apathy in the Modern Family Man

On March 13th, 1964, Catherine Susan "Kitty" Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment building in Kew Gardens, a neighborhood in Queens, New York City. Reports of the attack described a scene of apathy from nearly 40 bystanders who failed to help or call the police. Why did this happen? Why did no one help? What would I have done in that same situation?

In social psychology, there is a phenomenon called bystander apathy (or sometimes, the bystander effect) where the probability that an individual will help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. Stanley Milgram, an American social psychologist hypothesized an interesting explanation to bystander apathy by saying that the bystanders′ callous behavior is caused by the strategies they previously adopted in daily life to cope with information overload.

As I was reading about the case of Kitty Genovese, I couldn’t help but think about how I myself as a husband and father at times am guilty of being a bystander to my own life and actions, and also how this so often is due to self-imposed information overload in my life which distracts me, saturates my senses, eliminates margin, and keeps me from acting with clarity and conviction. Examples:

  • When my marriage is drifting, the voice of apathy reminds me of how tired I am that night.
  • When my children need help sorting their place in the world, the voice of apathy reminds me of things I need to do for work that week.
  • When my alarm clock rings to wake me up to spend quiet time in prayer with the Lord, the voice of apathy tells me I had a late night, and deserve a few more minutes of rest.

A Clear Identity and Purpose for the Modern Family Man

As fathers and husbands, God wants us to act bravely in our daily lives and battle those apathetic tendencies head on. I suggest that the root cause of apathetic versus non-apathetic behaviors in men is rooted in their perceived identity of themselves. A clear identity and purpose in life is the engine that drives a disciplined thought life, principled behavior, and intentional relationships. A model of the relationship between these elements is shown in the following figure.

Figure 1: A Model for Engaging the Battle Against Apathetic Tendencies in the Modern Paterfamilias (Family Man)

Figure 1: A Model for Engaging the Battle Against Apathetic Tendencies in the Modern Paterfamilias (Family Man)

As fathers, the world tells us confusing messages about who we are. At work, we are lead to believe our worth comes from our title or how much money we make. The media tells us our worth comes from how we look or what our accomplishments are. The truth is very different from that, and it starts with a Christ-centered identity.

God wants us [husbands] to act bravely in our daily lives and battle those apathetic tendencies.

Christ-Centered Identity

If we are to confront apathy, we must first resolve our identity. Only after a clear Christ-centered identity is established (i.e. salvation) can we start seeing anti-apathetic results in other areas of our life. Our salvation in Christ is the core thing here that signals our understanding that we were created in God’s image made for His glory to take care of His creation. It is amazing the kind of relief it brings when we settle into the role and that God envisioned for us from the outset. "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God […]” (1 John 3:1 ESV)

Disciplined Thought Life

If our true identities are in Christ, and we really believe it, we need to set our compass on God and do the same for our families. Our thought-life can be held captive to apathy just as much as our actions and relationships. "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8 ESV)

Principled behavior 

No one is perfect. However, a man with an identity rooted as a child of God following in the footsteps of Jesus will tend to act with his behavior in alignment with the things he knows to be right. Most of the time, we know the right things to do. yet the voice of apathy often confuses the situation and causes us to rationalize our apathetic actions. The Bible reminds us of the truth: "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct," (1 Peter 1:14-15 ESV)

Intentional relationships

An identity rooted in Christ, when paired with a disciplined thought life will cause us to create and maintain intentional relationships. Intentionality is what creates space for quality time with our children and spouse, and guides our decisions when it comes to picking friends and acquaintances chosen for the purposes of either growing closer to Christ or helping others do the same. There are many verses in the Bible about the relationships men have, but one of the key ones relates to our children: "In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge." (Proverbs 14:26 ESV)

A Call to Fight Against Apathy

Apathy is the absence of choice, which is itself a choice, and is enemy to the life God wants for us. I challenge you to think about how the noise in your life (multimedia, busyness, distraction, work, anger, lust) prevents you from battling apathy on a daily basis. How will you live? What will your legacy be? 

More about Mark

Mark Benson is passionate about seeing men follow Christ in boldness, creativity, discipline, and intentionality in their thought life, behavior, and relationships at work, home, and in their communities. Mark is on the board at First Baptist Church in downtown Minneapolis. In addition, he works as Chief Technology Officer at Exosite. Mark holds a BS in Computer Science from Bethel University and an MS in Software Engineering from the University of Minnesota. Mark and his wife Mandy have three beautiful kids and enjoy running, cycling, swimming, photography, and reading.