Adam Dzialo

Adam Dzialo
Our son, Adam Dzialo, age 30

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On Human Indifference . . .

One of Adam's ABR sessions
        Expectations drive our lives.  We expect our actions to produce certain reactions.  Of course, when those actions fail to produce what we need, we experience disappointment, grief and disillusion.
        Sharon's new book, Ceramic to Clay,  seeks to encourage people to understand trauma, to learn about authentic healing, to empower people to embrace their journeys and  to understand their calling at a deeper level.  She wants to share her story with those who have experienced life altering events and with the people and the communities who surround them.  Her expectation seems clear and, hopefully, will be realized.
        My expectations are different.  Given the promotion of the book, articles and photos in our hometown media (where Adam spent his first 21 years), announcements through social networking, I expect a resurgence of humans into Adam's life.  His many classmates and a plethora of teammates, his teachers and therapists, our friends and many family members .  . . I expect them to rush here, to call, to send a card  to celebrate the life of a thriving, joyful friend and relative.  One old friend did immediately visit and it was so good for Adam.  Are my expectations unrealistic or hasty?  Is it because Adam is non-verbal and non-ambulatory?  Are people afraid of a very challenged friend and  don't know what to say or do?  Is it because (12 years ago) many promised to walk by our side for as long as it takes and disappeared?  Do they reject our path and did they hope that we would usher him into an institution?  Will they make up "justification stories" to themselves? Am I wrong to have expectation? Or, is it  simply the plague of indifference?
     "What is indifference? Etymologically, the word 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. What are its courses and inescapable consequences? Is it a philosophy? Is there a philosophy of indifference conceivable? Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue? Is it necessary at times to practice it simply to keep one's sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experiences harrowing upheavals?
Of course, 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. ", Elie Wiesel, 1999 (speech in Washington, D.C.)

       So many of our severely challenged children and adults are pure and rich human beings whose lives are often re-defined by the stares, the avoidance, the pity, the indifference of their fellow human beings.  There is no higher place in the universe than that reserved for those who honor the lives and the value of the resilient spirit of the profoundly affected by trauma at birth or by accident.  And, for those who promised to be with the disabled and their caregivers for the "however long it takes" and either passively and indifferently disappear or actively "make up a story" about why they cannot or will not, well, it is not about getting over it, or moving on,  for me it is about confronting  their indifference. 

       Here are a few experiential reflections:
    • Never ask what you can do...simply do it
    • Never ask "can I get you something?" ... just get it
    • Never just remember someone ... communicate that with a card
    • Never wonder if it's permissible to visit ... drop by
    • Never wonder if the disabled would be ok going to a movie or a dinner ... just take them
    • Never, ever make a promise because it's momentarily appropriate and then run from the promise...we have no value as human other than as much as we are true to our word...our definition derives from being our word.
    • Learn to change a diaper, connect a g-tube, suction a trach....allow a caretaker to go out to supper once every so often.
    • If you question the statements about human indifference....visit a state institution for severely disabled, a state funded day habilitation facility, an elderly set of parents who have just had PCA or family support services reduced or eliminated by the state
    • Also, attend well to the widowed (whose friends also disappear,the elderly, infirm, emotionally torn by personal demons)

       "In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. 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. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor -- never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees -- not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.
       Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment."  Elie Wiesel, 1999

       While these reflections confront my feelings about life with Adam, the thoughts and feelings apply aptly to the plight of so many others.

I feel better!


  1. So difficult to respond or leave a comment after the white-hot lucid blaze posted by Phil
    a searing mirror-message
    thank you for making the invisible visible
    (as so many disabled/physically challenged/compromised people are)
    we as humans can only evolve to the degree to which we embrace all, measured by how we treat the "least" among us
    The beauty is that you still care enough to tell the rest of us what indifference means...
    keep tellin' it like it is
    may we all be inspired to do a random act of kindness in the life of a family with someone disabled/challenged

  2. Highly Recommend a DVD called MUSIC WITHIN
    a film about Richard Pimental, a disabled Vietnam War Vet who led the efforts to create the Americans with Disabilities Act
    Funny, informative and insighful

  3. Hey Phil - In a recent meditation workshop, we heard some great quotes, including "Pain is the difference between what you expect and what you get." The danger of living too much in expectations is that we become attached to them. I am learning that at least some of the suffering in life is optional and looking to better understand how I might be playing into my own at times.

    I find it helpful to think that absence does not always have to imply indifference. It may mean that attention or action is elsewhere, where for that person, it might need to be. I know I can't be there for everyone who might need me in my life, but try to rest in what I can offer. Moving on is part of life, sometimes even when someone is in a time of need. If only we could all offer a little acknowledgement, an occasional checking in, a helpful hand and expression of caring to those who need it most. Your post certainly reminds me of how important that really is. So many of us are wrapped up in busy lives and personal stressors and perhaps effected by our own trauma, we can't always respond and might not even realize how much good we could do, if only we could step outside for ourselves for a moment. At the same time it is worth considering the possibility that perhaps some out there are holding you in their thoughts and prayers, even if they are not in your life now.

    I hope this is helpful!

  4. Phil, I just love your posts, I too think it's a "cop out" an English expression. Sorry for the generalisation... But I'm tapping on my phone. I too feel it's the story, people not wanting to deal with it, brushing it under the carpet and (I've seen it recently... Being so happy they don't have "that" in their life. My 5 year old is at the wrath of her classmates for kissing "that". Your post made me feel better too. Thank you for for your posts. Oatie's mum x


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