Against Indifference – Lessons from a Holocaust survivor

“The opposite of life is not death – it is indifference.”  Elie Wiesel


My daughter and I attended a lecture by Elie Wiesel this weekend at UNC.  Mr. Wiesel is the author of NIght, a book that chronicled his time spent as a teenager in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.  Several things stood out about what he had to say, including:


We are living in a world of indifference, and Mr. Wiesel challenged the students in the audience to change that.  As a point in fact, ask someone to tell you who is running in the midterm elections this November.  They may not only not know, they will likely tell you they don’t care.  Indifference.  Do we take the time to really understand the new health plan, the tax issues before us, the national debt, the reasons our troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Indifference.  Unfortunately for us, the opposite of indifference has become ugliness – public shouting matches, rude behavior, name-calling, lies and half-truths.  There seems to be no middle ground.


In my opinion, indifference is the biggest social problem in this country today.  An indifferent and apathetic society is not one that will continue to move forward; rather, it will stagnate and become stale.


Mr. Wiesel also talked about how today’s youth have access to more information than any generation before it – pretty humorous coming from an 82-year-old!  But notice that he said information, not knowledge.  Which was his point.  Knowledge is the active and cognitive act of making sense of information – it takes time and effort to distill vast amounts of information into knowledge.  How many of us are really in search of knowledge rather than information?


Lastly, he posed a question:  What if my past becomes somebody’s future?  What a powerful – and scary – question.  Thankfully, we weren’t indifferent back in WWII.  Are we capable of being indifferent today?  I believe that was Mr. Wiesel’s point…


Mr. Wiesel is a soft-spoken octogenarian.  I’m glad that my daughter and I took the time to learn from the wisdom of his words and experience.


For one hour on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, we were not indifferent.   

~ by chuckmattina on October 11, 2010.

2 Responses to “Against Indifference – Lessons from a Holocaust survivor”

  1. I do agree that we are the generation of indifference. We are growing up in a time, that even in my young age can ascertain, is unlike any other in this country. We have so much information available; so many different media outlets available, and for the first time I felt like our generation had a voice in the last election. Our parents’ generation looked to us to be the voice of change (not to endorse any candidate); candidates spoke to us directly. And yet, we are about the hype, the right now. We are generation now. We do what’s cool, what feels good for now, and the future isn’t our problem.

    The people in Haiti still suffering from that tragedy, the dire consequences and impact of the Gulf oil spill, the midterm elections? That’s not cool for right now. That’s someone else’s problem. The thing is, we have access to every piece of information that we could possible want to know about these things, things that matter, but we don’t care. We think it’s someone else’s job to fix it, to make the decisions about our healthcare, or even our education.

    The thing that scares me about this? The world isn’t such a kind teacher. It will not account for our naivety, our carelessness, or our sense of indifference. Whatever it throws at us, down the line, might have to be our unfortunate wake up call.

    Mr. Weisel’s question about his past being someone’s future? History is a dark shadow; if it goes unnoticed, if it catches us off guard, it could repeat itself. There is nothing scarier than history in the hands of a man of indifference.

  2. Nancy: Thanks for the great perspective and very articulate comments – much appreciated. Interesting perspective in terms of linking indifference with what is cool – I think you’re absolutely right on that. Fighting for a cause you believe in is hard work, and made harder if it is not perceived as a ‘cool’ thing to be involved in.

    Begs the question – who will stand up and take responsibility for the future??


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