Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Perils of Indifference

By Chelsea Broughton

The word indifference is defined as “lack of interest or concern,” but on April 12, 1999, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel brought a deeper meaning to the word and how dangerous it can be to be indifferent. His speech was part of the Millennium Lecture series that was hosted by President Bill Clinton at the White House.

Wiesel is most well known for his many books that he has authored, especially Night, which is a memoir about his time as a Jewish teenager during the Holocaust. He was the only one of his immediate family members who survived the Nazi camps and was eventually freed by American troops.

Wiesel starts out his speech by addressing the President and the company he is in and goes right into his last experience of the Holocaust, which is when he was rescued by American soldiers and expresses his gratitude. He says, “Gratitude is a word that I cherish. Gratitude is what defines the humanity of the human being.”

Wiesel then begins to question what the legacy for the passing millennium will be as the world enters a new one. He lists all the horrible wars and tragedies that identify with the 1900’s, such as the World Wars, the assassinations of people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., and all of the violence. This is where he brings in the word “indifference,” saying “so much violence, so much indifference.”

Wiesel explains that being indifferent to something tragic is supporting that tragedy: “indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor -- never his victim,” he states. This is because ignoring a problem just makes it larger. In his speech Wiesel addresses the fact that indifference is obviously the easy choice, but it is what allows horrible things, such as the Holocaust, to occur and continue occurring. The fact that the world was indifferent to the Holocaust for so long has affected Wiesel’s life tremendously.

He started this speech by saying that gratitude is what makes us human, but then later says that indifference is what makes us inhuman. The speech is called “The Perils of Indifference.” Perils means dangers and he explains that “Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative […] Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response.”

This speech is basically to persuade the audience and people everywhere that indifference is not the answer when something is going wrong. He asks Americans and those around the world to refrain from indifference and let the new millennium be a time where we help others and do not allow horrible things to continue on once we know about them.

This was a very compelling speech by an extremely intelligent man. Those who were there to hear it in person and the people who still read it today must feel obligated to take action when something goes wrong instead of ignoring it, which is the natural and easy response.

He ends the speech by saying, “And so, once again, I think of the young Jewish boy from the Carpathian Mountains. He has accompanied the old man I have become throughout these years of quest and struggle. And together we walk towards the new millennium, carried by profound fear and extraordinary hope.” Wiesel has hope for a brighter future and a millennium with a more positive legacy, one without indifference.

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