Sunday, September 29, 2013

"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."

Elie Wiesel NYC 3.9.07 075
We often say today that "The opposite of love is hate."  The Truth is "the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference."

Think of wife that is upset with her husband... one of the most painful things she can do is give him the "silent treatment."  She can cause him more pain by simply ignoring him, acting though he doesn't even exist, or looking right through him...  then she would cause by acknowledging him and hating him.

A priest friend shared with me a story from his seminary days.  He had made friends with another seminarian who came from a big institution.  The friend shared with him how he was labeled at this larger institution.  He was given the nickname, as others were, of "PNC".  It turned out "PNC" stood for "Persons of No Consequence."  He was treated as if he had no consequence, no importance, no effect, no status, no value, and no need to be paid any attention too.  People were indifferent to him. 

It turns out that this is one of the "suicidal ideations."  For a person to begin thinking about taking their own life there are a series of ideas that they hold to be true.  One of the common steps for someone considering committing suicide is.... "No one cares."  They often feel that not only are they misunderstood by people but that no one even cares to understand them.  The most painful thing they experience is when they "cry for help" and are met with indifference.

"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."

This quote was coined by holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. (Pronounced El-ee Vee-zel)

The secure world of Wiesel's childhood ended abruptly with the arrival of the Nazis in Sighet [Transylvania] in 1944. The Jewish inhabitants of the village were deported en masse to concentration camps in Poland. The 15-year-old boy was separated from his mother and sister immediately on arrival in Auschwitz. He never saw them again. He managed to remain with his father for the next year as they were worked almost to death, starved, beaten, and shuttled from camp to camp on foot, or in open cattle cars, in driving snow, without food, proper shoes, or clothing. In the last months of the war, Wiesel's father succumbed to dysentery, starvation, exhaustion and exposure.

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For ten years, [after being freed] he observed a self-imposed vow of silence and wrote nothing about his wartime experience. In 1955, at the urging of the Catholic writer Francois Mauriac, he set down his memories in Yiddish, in a 900-page work entitled Un die welt hot geshvign(And the world kept silent). The book was first published in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Wiesel compressed the work into a 127-page French adaptation... 
(Academy of Achievement

The result was his internationally acclaimed memoir, Night (La Nuit), which has since been translated into more than thirty languages.
elie wiesel night
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed Elie Wiesel as Chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust. In 1980, he became the Founding Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. He is President of The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, an organization he and his wife created to fight indifference, intolerance and injustice. Elie Wiesel has received more than 100 honorary degrees from institutions of higher learning.  (Elie Wiesel Foundation)


The following is an excerpt from Elie Wiesel's Acceptance Speech, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, December 10, 1986

I remember: it happened yesterday or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the kingdom of night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.

I remember: he asked his father: "Can this be true?" This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?

And now the boy is turning to me: "Tell me," he asks. "What have you done with my future? What have you done with your life?"

And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.

And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.

There is so much injustice and suffering crying out for our attention: victims of hunger, of racism, and political persecution, writers and poets, prisoners in so many lands governed by the Left and by the Right. Human rights are being violated on every continent. More people are oppressed than free. And then, too, there are the Palestinians to whose plight I am sensitive but whose methods I deplore. Violence and terrorism are not the answer. Something must be done about their suffering, and soon. I trust Israel, for I have faith in the Jewish people. Let Israel be given a chance, let hatred and danger be removed from her horizons, and there will be peace in and around the Holy Land.

Yes, I have faith. Faith in God and even in His creation. Without it no action would be possible. And action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all. Isn't this the meaning of Alfred Nobel's legacy? Wasn't his fear of war a shield against war?

There is much to be done, there is much that can be done. One person – a Raoul Wallenberg, an Albert Schweitzer, one person of integrity, can make a difference, a difference of life and death. As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.

This is what I say to the young Jewish boy wondering what I have done with his years. It is in his name that I speak to you and that I express to you my deepest gratitude. No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night. We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them. Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.

Thank you, ... for declaring on this singular occasion that our survival has meaning for mankind.  (From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1986, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1987)


The following day he gave this lecture: Hope, Despair and Memory. Elie Wiesel shows how we must be shaken out of indifference and into action.

For us, forgetting was never an option.

Each one of us felt compelled to record every story, every encounter. Each one of us felt compelled to bear witness, Such were the wishes of the dying, the testament of the dead. Since the so-called civilized world had no use for their lives, then let it be inhabited by their deaths.

After the war we reassured ourselves that it would be enough to relate a single night in Treblinka, to tell of the cruelty, the senselessness of murder, and the outrage born of indifference: it would be enough to find the right word and the propitious moment to say it, 
to shake humanity out of its indifference and keep the torturer from torturing ever again. We thought it would be enough to read the world a poem written by a child in the Theresienstadt ghetto to ensure that no child anywhere would ever again have to endure hunger or fear. It would be enough to describe a death-camp "Selection", to prevent the human right to dignity from ever being violated again.

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. The Talmud tells us that by saving a single human being, man can save the world. We may be powerless to open all the jails and free all the prisoners, but by declaring our solidarity with one prisoner, we indict all jailers.... Mankind must remember that peace is not God's gift to his creatures, it is our gift to each other.  
(Excerpts from the Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1986)

So the question is... when you see someone poor... when you see someone suffering... when you see someone in need.  Are you indifferent?  Or do you act?

The indifference that allowed the world to stand by while the holocaust happened is the same indifference we hear about in the readings today.

The Prophet Amos exclaims: Woe to the complacent in Zion!  

"Woe to us if we are complacent... Woe to us if we are indifferent to those who suffer and are poor."  

We see this same indifference in the Gospel story of the Rich Man and the Poor Man.  The great crime of the Rich man, the sin that would cause him to be forever "tormented" in the eternal flames, was not hate, but indifference.

It was indifference that allowed him to dress in fine linen and purple garments dining sumptuously each day while the poor man named Lazarus laid right there at his doorstep starving and covered with sores.  He didn’t hate the poor man, he didn’t even acknowledge him, he was indifferent. 

We can all probably relate to this parable.  We have all at times in our lives probably stepped over the poor or have been overlooked by someone that could help us.  We may even become indifferent when we become overwhelmed by the World News of Chemical Weapons in Syria, the violence in Egypt, Nigeria needing 2.9 Trillion to bridge infrastructure deficit, and global poverty.

Maybe you've had an experience like the Rich Man and the Poor Man.  Say you are coming out of a nice restaurant in Downtown Cleveland and a beggar approaches you.  Or you see someone on a highway exit with a sign asking for money.  Or you see someone in need but don’t know how to help.

Chances are when you see this person you feel very uncomfortable, maybe not sure what to do, what to say or whether or not to give them anything.  If the poor make you feel uncomfortable that is a good thing.  That means that you are not indifferent to their poverty... that means deep down that you care.  Those feelings that you have that cause you discomfort are of God. 

The real sadness would be if you were like the rich man who didn't even notice the poor man lying at his door.  The real sadness would be "not to feel guilt"... to be "indifferent".

"The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference."

What if we do experience indifference? What if we do have this sense of being paralyzed before poverty? What if we feel overwhelmed by the injustice of the world?

Elie Wiesel reminds us that "Action is the only remedy to indifference." Action... ultimately this action is Love.  This love is the opposite of someone who does nothing because of indifference.

And how do we act? Who do we love? Who should we help when we have an entire world in need?

Focus on "One Person", focus on one cause, change one life.  As Elie Wiesel reminds us of the Talmud: "By saving a single human being, man can save the world."

So maybe you by yourself can't rid the world of poverty. Maybe you cannot even end poverty in Cleveland or your home town, but you can help one person. You can help one cause.  You can be the one to act when others are indifferent.

It was the sin of indifference that allowed the holocaust to happen.

It was the sin of indifference that allowed the poor man to lie starving at the door of the rich man.

It is the sin of indifference that keeps us from noticing and loving that one person who needs our help.

Remember, "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."

"Action is the only remedy to indifference."


"By saving one human being, man can save the world."

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