“It’s better to feel pain than nothing at all.  The opposite of love’s indifference.”

Included in the litany of music’s effects is its ability to ambush me.  That is a somewhat dramatic description—no one jumps out of the music and attacks me—but in a constructive way, music unveils ideas that have the power to wake me up, to jolt me out of a stupor, and to help me come to necessary realizations.  Most recently, the above verse from the song “Stubborn Love” by The Lumineers ambushed me with its truth and got me musing on indifference and the areas of my life that can be susceptible to it (hint: every).

Such a realization—I am indifferent—is undoubtedly a difficult self-diagnosis.  There is difficulty both in coming to and acting upon it, for attending to a not-so-pleasant realization requires attention, honesty, and care rather than indifference.  This self-diagnosis is necessary, however, to catch myself from drifting through life in a state of detachment.  So often, it takes an unexpected something—music, art, a meaningful conversation—to be the catalyst.

To be sure, noticing the insidious effects of indifference is not new, and a bit of poking around on the wiser corners of the internet yielded the following eloquent declaration of Elie Wiesel that I will use to guide my reflections: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.  The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference.  The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.  And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.”

“The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference.”

How many times have I walked around campus and been indifferent to my surroundings?  Not just to the most noticeable landmarks like the Golden Dome, Basilica, and Grotto, which I confess I rarely visit—and what a shame.  Beyond this trio, our campus is rife with beauty, found in the images and inscriptions engraved into the stone façades of buildings (Dillon and Alumni Halls come to mind), the statues in conspicuous and inconspicuous locations, and the beautiful landscape itself, which, while beautiful no matter the season, is easier to appreciate when we are graced with benevolent spring weather.  I do not always appreciate these details.  What makes me indifferent to the beauty around me?  It is lack of effort and lack of concern—manifestations of a pervasive attitude of indifference.

Nearly every day I walk under the arch of the Law School on my way to and from DeBartolo, yet it took me longer than it should have to notice the inscriptions that adorn the arch and building: Sapientia, Ratio, Veritas, Logos—Wisdom, Reason, Truth, the Word.  How beautiful, yet I was indifferent and did not notice.  Statues are scattered throughout campus, far more than the well-known Holy Handoff and First Down Moses.  For one, a lovely statue of Mary holding the Child Jesus stands on the east side of the Basilica, dedicated to victims of abortion.  It serves as a poignant reminder and a beautiful opportunity for contemplation—if only I notice it.

Curing indifference with regards to surroundings does not involve a great time investment; rather, it is a matter of noticing, caring, and taking small moments of appreciation and contemplation.

But buildings and surroundings are inconsequential, you could argue—but not if indifference towards our surroundings is indicative of our indifference towards others.  By being disinterested in and detached from the beauty around us, we create an insidious mindset of indifference.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

Far more toxic than indifference to our surroundings is indifference in relationships.  Our culture says this is a fine line; on one hand, we do not want to be too invested in something, or someone.  Is it not much easier to be breezily nonchalant?  But why is it that the ones we love the most are often the ones with whom it is easiest to be indifferent?  Self-protection, C.S. Lewis wisely diagnosed.  He sums it up best in The Four Loves:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.  Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable.”

Recently I was talking with two different groups of friends who affirmed that it is hard to be in a friendship when you seem to care more than the other person.  To shield ourselves from this, we pretend not to care too much.   Phrases creep into our speech.  Sure.  Whatever.  It doesn’t matter.  I don’t care.  To be sure, these can be fine responses to matters of less importance, but how dangerous these words can be when misapplied, and when they creep into our attitudes.

Indifference also affects how we treat the other who is not a friend.  Is this not what the Notre Dame family is all about?  To notice and to care about the other with true empathy.  Without noticing, how can we care?  Without care, how can we love?

“The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.”

Just as indifference towards the beauty surrounding me may lead to indifference towards others, that mindset leads to indifference towards God.  Instead of cultivating care, notice, and intentionality, I slide into lacking care, concern, and interest, fall into rushing through the motions, and become indifferent towards God and His working in my life.  How easy it is to fall into being lukewarm!

“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).

But is God’s response to our indifference just that—spitting us out?  It is certainly a warning against willful ignorance, but our transient, human emotions ensure that we will at some point feel indifference.  Yet however strongly our indifference prevails, we must strive to overcome it and to remember the most comforting and beautiful truth: that God is never indifferent towards us.

Again, C.S. Lewis comes to our aid, this time in Mere Christianity: “But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not.  It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.”

“And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.”

It is a challenge to me, and to you.  Let us not neglect to be interested, to be vulnerable, to be invested, to care about our own lives and the lives of others.  Even if being vulnerable and caring results in feeling pain, it is better than feeling nothing at all.

The cure to indifference?  Cultivating the opposite of indifference—love.

Stephanie Reuter is a freshman PLS major living in Welsh Family Hall.  Talk to her about The Lumineers, rooting out indifference in your life, and the lovely spring weather that is quite conducive to appreciating the beauty of campus at sreuter@nd.edu.