A person much older and wiser than myself once told me, “It’s not hatred that’s the opposite of love, it’s indifference.” I was 22 at the time, and I didn’t really get the point my mentor was trying to make. It seemed to me that the energy one could potentially expend “hating” another person, a place, a circumstance or a situation would best provide a force of opposition to combat the power of love.
Then I thought, Indifference is flat. Indifference is passive.
I have since realized that this was my friend's point. Human beings as a species are not passive. Therefore, indifference perverts our humanity. It stunts our growth. It stops our reaching and therefore stifles the possibility of love. Indifference blocks our attention and empathy, and thus snuffs out opportunities we might have to experience and respond to each other.
In this way, indifference within us is a sly and profound opponent to love. Our indifference prevents us from questioning the ills affecting others and the suffering and injustice we witness. It blinds us to the structural inequality we participate in and the social lessons and arrangements that inform our biases and our prejudices. When indifferent, we passively accept things, and ourselves, as they (we) are, regardless of how awful or ill-formed.
Worse still, our indifference creates the climate for more suffering, cruelty and greater injustice, and equally dangerous, indifference breeds ignorance. It makes unnecessary any justification for why we turn our backs on opportunities to reach across the gaps of difference, knowledge, disparity and understanding—so that we might grow and create a better future together.
Philosopher and British statesman Edmund Burke summed this up memorably, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women, I'll add] to do nothing."
Here's the Thing: For a year now, I have attempted (for the most part) to use this column to illuminate some of the issues confronting New Mexicans and incite conversations that might nudge readers into re-evaluating their positions or confronting instances of their indifference and thus be moved to personal action.
While it is clear that there are many passionate residents, officials, politicians, business owners, activists and cultural workers in New Mexico who fight every day for the love and well-being of our residents and citizens, it also stands to reason that there is also a significant number of people living here, or passing through, who are indifferent to some of the unique challenges that confront us. This is a majestic state, with beautiful and amazing people. But we are also a state on some of the worst Top 10 lists: human trafficking and child poverty, for example.
It is my hope that the issues I have attempted to raise in Here's the Thing continue to receive light and consideration in the pages of SFR, and that more voices join the discussion on topics of transparency in government, racial disparities, income inequality, education, domestic abuse, gender justice, child welfare and so on.
As I said in my first column a year ago, "transformation—be it anti-racist, social and gender justice, basic human rights—are born out of communities and coalitions of people working together across the lines of race, sex, class, gender, ethnicities, sexual orientation, faiths and generations." Love is its foundation, not indifference.
Thank you for your readership, feedback and engagement with Here's the Thing during the past year. I will continue to talk, write and engage people on matters that attempt to reach an understanding "across the gaps" in my scholarly and creative work. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrea L Mays, PhD is an American Studies Scholar, cultural relations consultant, poet, freelance writer and Santa Fean. This is the final installment of her column.