By: Bonnie Williams, Copy Editor
When I first heard about the shooting in New Zealand, my heart sank. Usually, I am spurred to action by these moments. I am spurred to educate, to inform and to get out of bed in the morning to fight for a more tolerable world. Rarely do I allow myself to pause and grieve, but in this moment, I did. I grieved for the lives lost, and deeper still, I grieved for the indifference still prevalent in the world. I grieved for the reality that those who commit crimes of violence, particularly against religious peoples, do not live in a vacuum. When someone commits a violent act, there exists others who supported or were indifferent to this person’s hate-motivated crime. Perhaps those who saw the early inklings of hatred in this person believed it would make no difference to speak out. Perhaps they did not see the damage this person’s hate could do.
In this moment of grief about indifference, I turned to Eli Wiesel, writer and holocaust survivor. In his Millennium Talk speech he says, “Indifference can be tempting — more than that, seductive. 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. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction.” To be indifferent to others, even others who are many thousands of miles away from us, is to reduce their humanity and their indiviudality to a concept, nameless and faceless, a number with no real history and no real pain. When we do this, we erase them; we erase their story and their meaning.
But we have the power to be meaning makers: to see the face of the other and listen and speak the other into existence. Yet so often we choose to be indifferent. We diminish our own power, the power that comes from being united with others who are not indifferent, who choose to speak meaning into the world. When people ask me ‘why should I care’ or ‘what difference can I make,’ I become angry, angry at the indifference and filled with a desire to confront them with the reality that their actions do matter; their actions shape the social circles in which they move, and ultimately the world. It is only through others that we see our self, so it matters what self is reflected back. We must reflect back to others the expectation that they will be tolerant and loving rather than hateful.
After four years at Furman, I must say that I am tired. I am tired of caring so deeply and often feeling that I am shouting into the void. I am tired of attempting to energize peers and elders about fighting injustice. I know there are people here who care about righting injustice, and I consider myself lucky to have known and worked with them, but there are many more who do not care or believe that what they do does not matter. To you I say: you do matter. You may not be a world leader, but you participate in and shape social structures every day. The beliefs you hold inform the actions you take. The actions you take affect those around you and influence their beliefs and actions, too. So think critically about the type of world your beliefs are creating. You may not see your own power, but it is there, so use it wisely.
Even just by listening to a person who has suffered from injustice, you have created meaning in the world and in their life. By correcting one friend or joining one cause, you have altered the course of reality. It was one person who killed and injured so many in New Zealand. One person. You as one person are just as powerful, so I implore you to know your power, to not sink into indifference and complacency. I implore you to speak and to listen. Existential freedom is real and so are the consequences, so choose well.