Our Collective Indifference

To many of us, being the empathetic and soul-full, living, breathing, human beings that we are, the current refugee crisis has caused major emotional hardship. People do, to many persons’ surprise, care about the individuals and their harrowing journey to escape suffering and find refuge. With approximately 13.5 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance, a staggering half of the country’s population forced to leave their homes, and more than four million Syrians waiting or awaiting registration with the United Nations High Commission of Refugees, it is apparent that humanitarian and international assistance is critical in order to sustain human life and prevent further disaster on these people and their communities. Yet, many of us reading this will sit here, perhaps shed a tear or two, and wonder what the heck they can do in this situation. That, my friend, is the feeling of indifference.

I recently read the Elie Wiesel speech that became the namesake of this blog, The Perils of Indifference. Without revealing too much of this incredibly powerful speech (please, please read), Wiesel speaks of indifference, the word that means “no difference…a strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil.” You’re thinking, okay, Wiesel, I kinda see what you’re getting at, it’s a pretty unusual place you’re caught in when dealing with indifference. But what’s the problem with this hang-up? When you’re paralyzed in this liminal space between caring and not caring, acting and remaining silent? What are the consequences of such an ordinary, human feeling? Wiesel sees this. He addresses the “seduction” that is indifference, the ease to fall into the habit of looking away from victims of horrible events. He gets that 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.” Indeed it is, Wiesel. Yet, he speaks, to the person who is indifferent, “his or her neighbor are of no consequence…their lives are meaningless.”





Are those who enact such horrible acts on to others, the enemies, any worse than those who stand by and watch silently? That is the question Wiesel implies, and the question we are forced to answer ourselves.

His speech made me seriously think, what the hell am I doing to help the Syrians? Well, I have begun by making a list.  I’m a lister, it puts things into a tangible perspective.  I can start with finding a charity to give to, one that is supervised by CharityWatch or CharityNavigator, has a reputable standing, and one where I can send a small slice of my meager college budget to (note: always do your research before donating to a non-profit). This is something I’ve felt indifferent to, considering I have so little to give, and I wonder if it will truly go anywhere and do anything. Yet, with the U.N. predicting it will take approximately $7.7 billion to meet the urgent needs Syrians are currently facing, I realize that any bit will become a part of a larger sum and truly help. There are other things you can do to help Syrian refugees along with other refugees facing crises. There are incredible local organizations in the Harrisonburg area (if you are reading this as a Harrisonburg local or not) working to receive over 200 refugees in our community per year, Church World Service and Rocktown Rallies. There are GoFundMe campaigns and petitions you can sign. There are phone calls and e-mails that desperately need to be sent to political actors, senators, representatives, and the like, stating that as a constituent you implore the necessity for refugee resettlement in your community! There are also smaller, but still great, acts like organizing letter writing campaigns to refugee camps (make sure you’re not condescending, but supportive and providing love). The opportunities abound, as long as you look for them.

It’s not east to make a change, to become concerned and involved with a certain issue, especially one on a global scale. But, the consequences of remaining indifferent are dismal. Take what you will from Elie Wiesel’s beautiful and haunting words, and know that there is a time when the world is not silent. When the world does respond. When the world does intervene. And that time is now.

– O. Aiello


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