On Indifference

by Odilon Bertrand Niyomugabo | May 4, 2017

The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis. — Dante Alighieri

The way we define our lives plays a huge role in the kind of choices we make; it determines whether we’ll take action when we must or whether we’ll be indifferent. Some people decide to act, and others decide to be indifferent. Even though some people’s actions can be negative, nothing is as bad as indifference to me. To paraphrase Ellie Wiesel, indifference is the root cause of all the evil around us. Indifference, that is to say, our unwillingness to weigh and consider a situation, can often lead to some harsh judgment and can lead to dire consequences because of failing to act when we should.

Last year in June, members of SEVEN United for the Needy, a youth charity organization that I am part of, visited an isolated widow. The old woman lost all her family in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. During the visit, she told us that she felt alone because all the youth in her neighborhood abandoned her. According to her, she couldn’t get over her sadness, because she had no help whatsoever to help her overcome it and look forward to living a beautiful happy life. Her story made me inexplicably sad. Here was a woman who had lost everything, and was still stuck in her grief because no one seemed to care. The way I see it, she might have been much more able to handle direct hostility than the indifference, because she would have believed that someone noticed her existence. Her story filled me with a zeal of denouncing indifference as much as I can, and to try to better people’s affairs when I can.

Moreover, when we choose to be bystanders and do nothing, we are much more likely to be judgmental. One day, on the way to my community service at Remera Catholic, my colleagues and I came across an unconscious man lying on the road. There was a crowd of people around him, judging him, but not taking any action. “He is a drunkard, poor, and dirty. He deserves to be here,” some people were whispering. It was then that I also realized that indifference also robbed us of the ability to think from other people’s point of view. The crowd’s indifference made them oblivious to other countless possibilities that might have made the man end up in condition he was. Later that afternoon, we took him to the hospital, and a few days later, we checked in on him to make sure he was healing. I believe that if we attempt to treat everyone with compassion and empathy, we are more likely to stop judging them and it is then that we are capable of making a difference in their lives; it is with this approach that we are able to create real change.

I have come to appreciate the drastic effects of indifference. From the Holocaust to the 1994 genocide to what is happening in Burundi and Syria and all these places, all because the world is turning a blind eye. During his TED talk, Pope Francis said, “we belong together, and the future is ours together.” There is no future for us, if people are dying day and night only for their cries to fall on deaf ears, blind eyes, and cold hearts. If we can confront the indifference, there is no doubt in my mind that we shall solve almost every problem on our planet.