Recently, the world lost a beautiful soul. Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor, writer, human rights activist and professor at Boston University passed away at aged 87, leaving a legacy of inspiration and what it is to be a truly remarkable human being.
Elie first caught my attention with his famous quote:
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. And the opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference and the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”
The lethargy of indifference
How does indifference look? The Latin meaning of indifference suggests the state is 'neither good nor bad'. It just seems to be a 'nothing'. Words such as disregard, lethargy, lack, inattention, disinterest are just some ways of describing the silent but all too common condition of indifference.
I think Katy Perry has a pretty good understanding of how ugly the result of indifference can be. In her smash hit song 'Firework', which is her self confessed favourite song, her lyrics pose the questions, “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind, wanting to start again? Do you ever feel so paper thin, like a house of cards, one blow from caving in? Do you ever feel already buried deep, six feet under screams but no-one seems to hear a thing?"
Katy paints the picture well. The persons' basic need for attention, esteem, respect, concern, interest and involvement are devoid and the condition is debilitating.
Indifference causes pain
So then, what does indifference look like in everyday life? I remember the day my daughter broke her leg and I got a speeding fine later that evening. I burst into tears in front of the Policeman. I was overwhelmed because I had to take time off my contract job to care for my daughter and was already doing the maths at how behind we were going to be financially. During my sobs, the Policeman said to me, "What are you crying about? It's only a speeding fine." He was right. But that is not what I needed to hear. He was indifferent to my state.
Indifference is probably a very safe, comfortable and self preserving condition to be in. After all, you are not giving out much, you are not broadening your thoughts or being challenged by another, your worldview is safe and you probably have more energy to give to your own interests. It sounds harmless right? Well, indifference certainly cannot be measured and it is a voluntary state that one could very easily slide into.
I agree with Elie Weisel - indifference is worse than hate. Studies indicate that children would prefer to have negative attention than no attention at all. At least they are being given some form of acknowledgement of their existence.
Everyone wins when a person makes a conscious effort to resist indifference. The good news is, it is such an easy condition to remedy. Simple gestures such as acknowledging another through a smile when passing, or using someone's name when the opportunity presents itself. Or opening your ears and heart to someone's story.
As fellow life livers, everyone has a story. It takes effort to be an active listener. It does take more energy to engage and validate others. It may mean getting out of your comfort zone. But what an awesome cause. I have learned some great cooking recipes from ladies who work the checkout!
Your power to give
I love my job as a Flight Attendant. I get to travel with people from all cross sections of life and often travellers are coming or going to a significant event. Some travellers are shy, some are indifferent, some are pleasant and others like to be engaged and very occasionally they can be demanding. However, I have never met a passenger that has not responded positively to being shown respect.
Never underestimate simple daily gestures that are within your power to give. You may be giving someone that little bit of courage they were hoping for. You may be the listening ear that was needed - or you may be silently reminding someone that they are valuable, worthwhile and wonderful.
Helen is a mother to three beautiful children and has been married to Ian for 20 years. She has been a Primary School teacher for half of her life and loves learning new things from her students. Her favourite things in life are her family, friends, all things outdoors and her two spoilt dogs. Helen currently resides in Ipswich, Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Helen Nicholson.