The Curse of Indifference


On April 12, 1999, Elie Wiesel addressed President Clinton and his wife, members of Congress, and the whole world. Wiesel tackled the concept of indifference and its effect on mankind; and as a victim of such horrible treatment inside concentration camps at Auschwitz, Wiesel wants his audience to know that indifference is the harsh truth. He makes the generalization that one of the greatest curses on mankind is for one man to deny the humanity of another; indifference is a failure to acknowledge one’s pain, most likely because he, or she, is blinded to their own.

One culture characteristic that separates people is religion and Wiesel uses the element of religion in the beginning of his speech to relate to the majority of the society at the time. Wiesel sets a mood of depression and has the audience thinking or all the havoc and countless deaths at the hands of man, then in a very dreadful tone, he says, “Better an unjust God than an indifferent one… Man can live far from God”. If it’s better for God to be angry at His creation than to be indifferent to it, then that makes indifference more foolish for a man to have towards another man. Wiesel makes the case that man can enjoy life, drink, and be merry away from God, but there is no running away from the ultimate truth. At the end of his point, Wiesel adds, “Even in suffering? Even in suffering”. This allows the man or woman to feel immediate guilt, knowing that God watches every action they take toward violence and chaos. And being indifferent gives them no reliable means of escape from their problems, and from God.

Immediately after he argues the foolishness of indifference by comparing it to the fact that even God shows emotion, Wiesel takes on the consequences of indifference and how it deteriorates the man both mentally and emotionally. He calls out those who are indifferent and comes to his second point that, “In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman”. To be totally lacking in emotion and void of understanding and compassion means there is no longer a feeling that one’s life is valuable. It is detrimental to the soul, and Wiesel uses sound reasoning to explain that there is no good thing that derives from indifference, “Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end”. Indifference is a curse and as a blind characteristic, it leads others into the darkness. Wiesel knows this and uses strong connotative diction to convey that an indifferent man can no longer feel or see the needs of his fellow man, he is incapable of emotion, meaning “the end” for his own humanity.

Lastly, Wiesel condemns the subject of indifference, passing judgment on anyone who is careless towards someone else. Looking through the eyes of the oppressed, having been a victim of oppression himself, Wiesel teaches that, “And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor–never his victim…”. Wiesel is insinuating that the aggressor is always at an advantage when it comes to inflicting pain on his victim because he has no weaknesses or emotional setbacks that will keep him from doing his evil task. What the audience can draw from this is that indifference can turn a man into a monster, a person who no longer knows himself. Then, slamming the gavel down, Wiesel concludes that, “Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment”. From Wiesel’s perspective, if it’s punishment for the oppressed, then they are unfortunate as a victim of such torture. If it’s punishment for the oppressor, he is cursed for rejecting morality and ignoring the light, and he is cursed because he made a deliberate decision to be indifferent to those who suffer.

Wiesel wants to urge his audience to show compassion at the turn of a new century and start over to create a better world. But he also warns the oppressors: the latter end is worse with the aggressors than the beginning; it would have been better for them if they had been consumed with the repercussions of their anger than to be led captive and blinded by indifference.

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