Friday, May 8, 2015

Get off the fence!

      My regular (car-)commute route to DU takes me past a church that routinely posts a quotation on one of their lawn-signs.  Early this week the quotation was from Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and author Elie Wiesel:  "The opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference."  (There is more to the original:  "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death."*)   I recalled seeing Elie Wiesel speak many years ago.  I was struck by his lack of indifference.  His many books are passion-filled; he argues effectively for the future of our species, even while experiencing one of our darkest periods.
       Also this week, I received a newsletter, the "Awakin Weekly". The lead article was by another well-known Jewish author and scholar, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, entitled "
Radical Amazement".  He wrote:  "The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted. Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin (emphasis added)."  I was struck by the coincidence (or synchronicity) of finding both authors addressing "indifference" in the same week -- although in very different ways.
        Their concern, however, about "indifference" is something I've shared, and puzzled over, for some time.  I've long advocated for passionately pursuing a goal, not sitting on the sidelines.  My doctoral dissertation (on self-castration among some early Christian men . . . yes, that was the topic . . . and, yes, you may inquire further) focused on why someone would inflict irreversible injury on one's own body for religious reasons --- that is NOT the action of someone who was INDIFFERENT, but who REALLY believed in what he was doing.  It wasn't much of a stretch for me to wonder about kamikaze pilots as well -- not indifferent people at all.
        Individuals in these latter two groups are folks many of us would call "crazy".  We wonder, too, about the state-of-mind of those who would be seduced by rhetoric suggesting that suicide terrorist acts are praiseworthy.  But all of them display, it seems to me, a passion, a commitment, that, if it conformed to our belief-system, would be commended.  I've come to believe that we judge the act not by the commitment that lies behind it, but rather by the cause it reflects.
         I may open myself to criticism here (and it won't be the first time!), but I'd rather engage--peacefully, of course--with someone who was committed to their cause, whether I agreed or not, than with someone who couldn't care less.  And it seems to me that that is what a university should be all about:  fostering passion and commitment in the service of others . . . as well as civil discourse that can move us all forward.  What both Wiesel and Heschel point out is that doing otherwise, not paying attention, is setting oneself up to be caught on the fence, embarrassed, ineffective, 
immobile -- perhaps even sinful.        



*US News & World Report, October 27, 1986

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