Sunday, July 4, 2010

The perils of indifference

In my line of work, I have to write the occasional speech so I sometimes read famous speeches for inspiration. One of those which may not be the most remembered, but has been personally impactful to me, is by Elie Wiesel, a Jewish writer who suffered under the Nazis in World War II. In April 1999, he addressed President Clinton and the US Congress speaking on The Perils of Indifference.
"Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony. One does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never 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. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end."
Wiesel was making a point that apathy by others was what fueled the tragedy at Auschwitz. Closer to home, the speech struck a chord in me because indifference is destructive at the basic, everyday level as well.

Indifference is looking the other way, pretending not to hear or saying something non-committal out of convenience or to avoid conflict. As Wiesel said, "It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person's pain and despair... In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman."

Ironically, while indifference implies inaction, it can have very negative consequences. I consider a better friend the one who disagrees with me than the one who simply ignores me. Nothing shouts "I don't care" louder than indifference.

And this is what I hope we can teach our kids. Whether it's going out of our way to lend a helping hand or simply giving a word of encouragement, it's almost always better than doing nothing, saying nothing, feeling nothing. I've always felt that's why bullying continues to happen in schools - because kids and teachers do, say and feel nothing about the plight of the victims.

This year, one of Andre's school bus mates happens to be his form teacher's son. The boy periodically grumbles about his mother's strict rules at home. One day, Andre marched up to his teacher and asked her, "Are you proud of your son?" When she replied something to the effect of "aren't all parents proud of their children?", he queried, "then why don't you show it?"

I only found this out when she called me and I was stunned by his audacity. (A friend asked me if I fed Andre steroids). On further reflection, I was touched by his intentions - he perceived his friend as being aggrieved and he attempted to stand up for him. While his approach may be flawed, his intention was good. It showed that he cared and he wasn't indifferent, which warmed my heart.

During my break, I've had some time to ponder over the future fate of this blog. Occasionally, I worry that I come across too strong in my opinions - I acknowledge I'm extremely opinionated and I make no secret of these opinions, even sometimes unpopular ones. But I believe this is far preferable to apathy. And while it takes effort to keep turning out meaningful articles, I can't be indifferent to the fact that my blog has attracted almost 100,000 eyeballs. So for now, the blog remains a platform for me to air my views and if they resonate with some of you, my readers, then that would be a bonus.

Meanwhile, even as my kids grow older everyday, this blog will be an excellent way to let me chronicle their journey as a keepsake. I'm taking this one step at a time, without putting any pressure on myself to churn out articles every few days, as I've done in the past. But as long as this blog can make a difference, whether to my readers, to my family or even to myself, I will keep at it... for now.


Lilian said...

Andre's such a great kid. And yes, your blog and opinions definitely make a difference, so please keep chugging along.

monlim said...

Thanks Lilian, maybe I'll have to turn to you for inspiration! And while I'm at it, you shd restart your blog too :)

Anonymous said...

You started this blog for your kids as a chronicle so just continue to treat it that way. There should be no pressure to churn out award-worthy articles or do not even be concerned about what readers think of you or your views. At the end of the day, it's your gift to your kids... with its pluses and minuses. Something to remember. Readers are passer-bys. Don't let our opinions or views affect how you run your blog. It's YOUR blog. Do it YOUR way. I really enjoy following your wonderful blog. Keep it up! Yes, Lilian too...can she quickly re-start her blog pls?


monlim said...

SL: Haha, you're absolutely right of course but you're talking to an over-thinker mah, I always complicate everything! Thanks for being a loyal follower. *nudge Lilian for SL*

Anonymous said...

Mon, your Andre is steady poon-pee-pee lah!! He is so brave to stand up for his friend!!

I'm so happy to see that you are back!! ^_^

And, yup, what's up Lilian? You must be enjoying all the delicious Thai food and forgotten about us....LOL


monlim said...

Chris: Great to hear from you! Yalah, Lilian is out of action, seems like my elbow not long enough to nudge her all the way from here :P

Anonymous said...

mon, i'm not sure if andre was standing up for his friend or was he expressing something else. u see, i think andre is lucky to have a mom who is so articulate and can express her thoughts well on paper (well, e-paper). the kid can see what you like or not like and i think he appreciates that. perhaps he senses that his friend doesn't have that kind of relationship with his mom and hence, popped the question to his teacher.

that said, i think u've definitely put your kid on steriods! or is that just the effects of newater? :) - kjj

monlim said...

KJJ: Wah, such a nice compliment lah. It's true that my relationship with Andre has been reinforced by what he reads on my blog, and not every kid can have that.

Yes, I serve up a helping of steroids next to the growth hormone chickens :P

NYMacMom w 3 said...

Keep it up..
DON'T GO!! I've finally found a Singaporean mom who beats to the same rhythm as mine (tho we haven't met)
Brave moms encourages her kids to be brave too! KUDOS!

monlim said...

Sarah: Thanks! I will try :)

Elan said...

HOORAY! You're back.
Yes, I agree that your blog should be about what YOU want to write about and you should not worry about what people want to read nor put pressure on yourself to keep up with it if you have nothing to write about for that week.
Andre sounds like such a thoughtful, articulate and brave boy. What was the teacher's response? Did it set her thinking or was she offended?
and yes Lillian *NUDGE*


monlim said...

Elan: Thanks! I'll do that. I'll email you the teacher's response.

Lilian said...

Blueblack from all the nudging. I miss everyone too...haven't forgotten you guys...just very hard to restart engine...maybe no more fuel!! Anyone wants to guest-blog hehe.

I need more time in the day and definitely some Monica-writing genes injected in me!

monlim said...

Lilian: Guest blog? You lazy bum lah... go post all your beautiful holiday photos!!

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