On Apathy

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[The secret of] how to live without resentment or embarrassment in a world in which I was different from everyone else. ... was to be indifferent to that difference.—Al Capp, 20th-century American cartoonist
(1909–1979), "My Well-Balanced Life on a Wooden Leg" Life 23 May 60
Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.—Elie Wiesel, 20th-century Rumanian-born American writer
(b. 1928), US News & World Report 27 Oct 86
Being a Jew, one learns to believe in the reality of cruelty and one learns to recognize indifference to human suffering as a fact.—Andrea Dworkin, contemporary American feminist critic
(b. 1946), Letters from a War-Zone, "A Feminist Looks At Saudi-Arabia" (1987; first published 1978) [CDQ]
I am a man, and nothing that concerns a man do I deem a matter of indifference to me.—Terence, ancient Roman playwright
(ca. 190–159 B.C.E.), Heautontimoroumenos. Act i. Sc. 1, 25. (77.)
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would though wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.—Bible: Revelation 3:15-16
If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to all others, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism.—Erich Fromm, 20th-century American psychoanalyst and philosopher
(1900–1980), The Art of Loving (1956)
Ignorance, inertia and indifference are alive and well in America's newspapers. Minority still equals inferiority in the minds of many American editors and publishers.—Loren Ghiglione, contemporary American newspaper publisher
NY Times 11 Mar 87
In really hard times the rules of the game are altered. The inchoate mass begins to stir. It becomes potent, and when it strikes, . . . it strikes with incredible emphasis. Those are the rare occasions when a national will emerges from the scattered, specialized, or indifferent blocs of voters who ordinarily elect the politicians. Those are for good or evil the great occasions in a nation’s history.—Walter Lippmann, 20th-century American journalist
(1889–1974), "The New Congress," in New York Herald Tribune (8 Dec. 1931; repr. in The Essential Lippmann, pt. 3, sct. 6, 1982)
In this country . . . men seem to live for action as long as they can and sink into apathy when they retire.—Charles Francis Adams, Sr., 19th-century American statesman and diplomat
(1807–1886), Journal entry, 15 April 1836
Indifference is the only infidelity I recognize.—Israel Zangwill, 19th-20th-century English writer
(1864–1926) Children of the ghetto (1892) ii. ch. 15, p. 510
Indifference is the revenge the world takes on mediocrities.—Oscar Wilde, 19th-century British playwright and writer
(1854–1900) Prince Paul in Vera, act 2
Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.—Elie Wiesel, 20th-century Rumanian-born American writer
(b. 1928), US News & World Report 27 Oct 86
Lukewarmness I account a sin, / As great in love as in religion.—Abraham Cowley, 17th-century English poet and essayist
(1618–1667), The Request
Man watches his history on the screen with apathy and an occasional passing flicker of horror or indignation.—Conor Cruise O’Brien, 20th-century Irish historian, critic, and diplomat
(b. 1917), Quoted in: Irish Times (Dublin, 16 July 1969)
Mankind are an incorrigible race. Give them but bugbears and idols—it is all that they ask; the distinctions of right and wrong, of truth and falsehood, of good and evil, are worse than indifferent to them.—William Hazlitt, 18th–19th-century English essayist
(1778–1830), "Common Places," no. 76, in Literary Examiner (London, 29 Nov. 1823; repr. in Collected Works, vol. 11, ed. by A. R. Waller and Arnold Glover, 1904)
Men are accomplices to that which leaves them indifferent.—George Steiner, 20th-century French-born American critic and novelist
(b. 1929), Language and Silence, "A Kind of Survivor" (1967)
No one will ever shine in conversation, who thinks of saying fine things: to please, one must say many things indifferent, and many very bad.—Francis Lockier, 17th-18th-century English prelate and man of letters
(1668–1740), Quoted in: Joseph Spence, Anecdotes, pt. 2, "1730–32" (1820)
Nothing can contribute more to peace of soul than the lack of any opinion whatever.—G.C. Lichtenberg, 18th-century German physicist and writer
(1742–1799), Aphorisms, "Notebook E," aph. 11 (written 1765–99; tr. by R. J. Hollingdale, 1990)
Nothing is so fatal to religion as indifference which is, at least, half infidelity.—Edmund Burke, 18th-century Irish philosopher and statesman
(1729–1797), Letter to William Smith, 29 Jan. 1795 (published in The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, vol. 9, ed. by Paul Langford, 1991)
Old age is far more than white hair, wrinkles, the feeling that it is too late and the game finished, that the stage belongs to the rising generations. The true evil is not the weakening of the body, but the indifference of the soul.—André Maurois, 20th-century French writer
(1885–1967), The Art of Living, "The Art of Living" (1940)
One who shows signs of mental aberration is, inevitably, perhaps, but cruelly, shut off from familiar, thoughtless intercourse, partly excommunicated; his isolation is unwittingly proclaimed to him on every countenance by curiosity, indifference, aversion, or pity, and in so far as he is human enough to need free and equal communication and feel the lack of it, he suffers pain and loss of a kind and degree which others can only faintly imagine, and for the most part ignore.—Charles Horton Cooley, 19th-20th-century American sociologist
(1864–1929), Human Nature and the Social Order, ch. 6 (1902)
Our most important task as parents is raising children who will be decent, responsible, and caring people devoted to making this world a more compassionate place.—Neil Kurshan, contemporary American rabbi and author
Raising your Child to be a Mensch, ch. 7 (1987)
People are what you make them. A scornful look turns into a complete fool a man of average intelligence. A contemptuous indifference turns into an enemy a woman who, well treated, might have been an angel.—André Maurois, 20th-century French writer
(1885–1967), News summaries 30 Jan 50
Perhaps misguided moral passion is better than confused indifference.—Iris Murdoch, 20th-century Irish writer and philosopher
(b. 1919), Jenkin Riderhood, in The Book and the Brotherhood, pt. 2, "Midwinter" (1987)
Persecution was at least a sign of personal interest. Tolerance is composed of nine parts of apathy to one of brotherly love.—Frank Moore Colby (1865–1925), 19th-205h-century American editor and essayist
(1865–1925), The Colby Essays, vol. 1, "Trials of an Encyclopedist" (1926)
Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all—the apathy of human beings.—Helen Keller, 20th-century American author and lecturer
(1880–1968), My Religion, pt. 1, ch. 6 (1927)
Silence, indifference and inaction were Hitler’s principal allies.—Lord Jakobovits, Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth
(b. 1921), Independent (London, 5 Dec. 1989)
Slums may well be breeding-grounds of crime, but middle-class suburbs are incubators of apathy and delirium.—Cyril Connolly, 20th-century British journalist, editor and writer
(1903–1974), The Unquiet Grave, pt. 1 (1944; rev. 1951)
Smitten as we are with the vision of social righteousness, a God indifferent to everything but adulation, and full of partiality for his individual favorites, lacks an essential element of largeness.—William James, 19th-century American psychologist and philosopher
(1842–1910), The Varieties of Religious Experience, lectures 14–15, "The Value of Saintliness" (1902)
The accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference.—Bess Myerson, 20th-century American government official and columnist
(b. 1924), Quoted in: Claire Safran, "Impeachment?" (Redbook, April 1974)
The camel is drowning, and the goat asks him the depth of the water.—Marathi proverb
The difference between our decadence and the Russians’ is that while theirs is brutal, ours is apathetic.—James Thurber (1894—1961), 20th century U.S. humorist, illustrator
Quoted in: Observer (London, 5 Feb. 1961)
The evil that men do lives on the front pages of greedy newspapers, but the good is oft interred apathetically inside.—Brooks Atkinson, 20th century American playwright
(1894–1984), "December 11," Once Around the Sun (1951)
The gap between the committed and the indifferent is a Sahara whose faint trails, followed by the mind’s eye only, fade out in sand.—Nadine Gordimer, 20th-century South African author
(b. 1923), "Great Problems in the Street" (first published in I Will Still Be Moved, ed. by Marion Friedmann, 1963; repr. in The Essential Gesture, ed. by Stephen Clingman, 1988)
The greatest threat to the future is indifference.—Anonymous Saying
The greatest tragedy is indifference.—Red Cross slogan
The nonstriving person who elects to avoid problems actually creates new ones.—Robert H. Schuller, contemporary American Protestant minister and television evangelist
(b. 1926) Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do!
The only thing that matters is caring, deep caring . . . Be the man or the woman you have it in you to be—and you won’t be false to Main Street.—Anonymous Saying
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.—Elie Wiesel, 20th-century Rumanian-born American writer
(b. 1928), U.S. News and World Report (New York, 27 Oct. 1986)
The ordinary politician has a very low estimate of human nature. In his daily life he comes into contact chiefly with persons who want to get something or to avoid something. Beyond this circle of seekers after privileges, individuals and organized minorities, he is aware of a large unorganized, indifferent mass of citizens who ask nothing in particular and rarely complain. The politician comes after a while to think that the art of politics is to satisfy the seekers after favors and to mollify the inchoate mass with noble sentiments and patriotic phrases.—Walter Lippmann, 20th-century American journalist
(1889–1974), "The New Congress," in New York Herald Tribune (8 Dec. 1931; repr. in The Essential Lippmann, pt. 3, sct. 6, 1982)
The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity.—George Bernard Shaw, 19th-20th century British playwright and critic
(1856–1950) Anderson, in The Devil’s Disciple, act 2
This people draws its origin from Abraham, our father in faith ... The very people that received from God the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" itself experienced in a special measure what is meant by killing. It is not permissible for anyone to pass by this inscription with indifference.—Pope John Paul II
(b. 1920) [Karol Wojtyla], On visiting Auschwitz concentration camp that he called "the Golgotha of the modern world," Time 18 Jun 79
This, now, is the judgment of our scientific age—the third reaction of man upon the universe. The universe is not hostile, nor yet is it friendly. It is simply indifferent.—John Haynes Holmes, 20th-century American Unitarian clergyman
(1879-1964) The Sensible Man’s View of Religion (1932) ch. 4
Those who have been immersed in the tragedy of massive death during wartime, and who have faced it squarely, never allowing their senses and feelings to become numbed and indifferent, have emerged from their experiences with growth and humanness greater than that achieved through almost any other means.—Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, 20th-century Swiss-American psychiatrist
(b. 1926), Death: The Final Stage of Growth, ch. 5 (1975)
Throughout history it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph.—Haile Selassie, 20th-century Emperor of Ethiopia
(1892–1975), speech addressing the League of Nations and the UN, 4 October 1963
Time ... is not a great healer. It is an indifferent and perfunctory one. Sometimes it does not heal at all. And sometimes when it seems to, no healing has been necessary.—Ivy Compton-Burnett, 20th-century British novelist
(1892–1969), Darkness and Day (1951)
To live each day as though one’s last, never flustered, never apathetic, never attitudinizing—here is perfection of character.—Marcus Aurelius, 2nd-century Roman emperor and philosopher
(121–180 C.E.), Meditations, bk. 7, no. 69
To try may be to die, but not to care is never to be born.—William Redfield, 20th-century American actor and writer
(b. 1927), "One Might Have Played Hamlet, the Other Did," NY Times, 15 January 1968
Tolerance is only another name for indifference.—W. Somerset Maugham, 19th-20th-century British writer
(1874–1965), A Writer’s Notebook (1949), entry for 1896
We are becoming like cats, slyly parasitic, enjoying an indifferent domesticity. Nice and snug in "the social," our historic passions have withdrawn into the glow of an artificial coziness, and our half-closed eyes now seek little other than the peaceful parade of television pictures.—Jean Baudrillard, 20th-century French semiologist
(b. 1929), Cool Memories, ch. 1 (1987; tr. 1990)
We are not commanded (or forbidden) to love our mates, our children, our friends, our country because such affections come naturally to us and are good in themselves, although we may corrupt them. We are commanded to love our neighbor because our "natural" attitude toward the "other" is one of either indifference or hostility.—W. H. Auden, 20th century Anglo-American poet
(1907–73) A Certain World, "Neighbor, Love of One’s" (1970)
We assume that politicians are without honor. We read their statements trying to crack the code. The scandals of their politics: not so much that men in high places lie, only that they do so with such indifference, so endlessly, still expecting to be believed. We are accustomed to the contempt inherent in the political lie.—Adrienne Rich, contemporary American poet and educator
(b. 1929), "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying," paper read at Hartwick College, New York, June 1975 (first published 1977; repr. in On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, 1980)
We find the most terrible form of atheism, not in the militant and passionate struggle against the idea of God himself, but in the practical atheism of everyday living, in indifference and torpor. We often encounter these forms of atheism among those who are formally Christians.—Nicolai A. Berdyaev, 19th-20th-century Russian Christian philosopher
(1874–1948), Truth and Revelation (1953; repr. in Christian Existentialism, ch. 5, "Atheism," 1965)
We live in an age when to be young and indifferent can no longer be synonymous. We must prepare for the coming hour. The claims of the Future are represented by suffering millions; and the Youth of a Nation are the trustees of Posterity.—Benjamin Disraeli, 19th-century writer and prime minister of Britain
(1804–1881), from Sybil, 1845
We may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all—the apathy of human beings.—Helen Keller, 20th-century American author and lecturer
(1880–1968), My Religion, pt. 1, ch. 6 (1927)
What people call impartiality may simply mean indifference, and what people call partiality may simply mean mental activity.—G.K. Chesterton, 19th-20th-century British essayist
(1874–1936), All Things Considered, "The Error of Impartiality" (1908)
When we believe ourselves in possession of the only truth, we are likely to be indifferent to common everyday truths.—Eric Hoffer, 20th-century American philosopher
(1902–1983), The Passionate State of Mind, aph. 83 (1955)
When you have become indifferent to crimes committed against others, you have dug a pit for yourself.—Sholem Asch, 20th-century American novelist
(1880–1957) What I Believe (1941) p. 190
Where apathy is the master, all men are slaves.—Anonymous Saying
Wherever the citizen becomes indifferent to his fellows, so will the husband be to his wife, and the father of a family toward the members of his household.—Wilhelm Von Humboldt, 18th–19th-century German statesman and philologist
(1767–1835), Limits of State Action, ch. 3 (1792; repr. 1854; tr. and ed. by J. W. Burrow, 1969)
You see few people here in America who really care very much about living a Christian life in a democratic world.—Clare Boothe Luce, 20th-century American diplomat and writer
(1903–1987), Europe in the Spring, ch. 12 (1940) [CDQ]

© 1998 KPOZ

Discussion Forum

The following seemingly contradictory statements have been made concerning apathy:

Which author do you agree with, and why? Please e-mail your comments to: anewhaus@earthlink.net

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© Andrea Németh-Newhauser. Last updated on January 27, 2001