Adam Dzialo

Adam Dzialo
Our son, Adam Dzialo, age 30

Sunday, May 29, 2011

And, Just Who Would Care? And, Just What Has Really Changed?

         "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."
- Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel
       I have been plagued and obsessed with the notion of human indifference for some weeks, to the point of losing a sense of moral compass.  When I see my disabled child treated with indifference by those who should evidence a modicum of care, I am filled with rage.  When I see people who believe that a short phone call on a sporadic basis to check on "how things are going" without a physical presence that demonstrates clear evidence of caring, I am filled with rage.  When I face people who refuse to respond to simple requests for kindness or help, I am filled with rage.  These actions, singly or collectively, reflect that depraved indifference which reduces the other to nothingness, to the mere status of an object.  It produces a visible pain which is elicited by an invisible response from the other.  We are all lessened by every single act of indifference.
       There is a commonly held belief that society has evolved and changed for the better, that there is an increased sense of acceptance and inclusion of diversity.  After all, women are now allowed to vote and guaranteed equal pay and access to reproductive options,  blacks are no longer restricted and oppressed by white supremacists, gays and lesbians are free be open and allowed the same rights as all, and the disabled have access to services which were hitherto relegated to the warehouses and boiler rooms in the bowels of society.  So much has changed and evolved, but has it really?  All these changes were changes prescribed by law and enforced by criminal and civil penalties.  Change was the result of advocacy, demonstration, protest and conflict as people battled for acknowledgement of basic human rights and entitlements.  Change was the result of good hearts forcefully united against discrimination and oppression.  But what changed except the LAW? What price was paid to change the LAW?
       I still see an abject refusal to embrace women and their right to choose, a refusal to embrace gays and lesbians as equals in a heterosexist world, a refusal to embrace minorities as friends and neighbors, a refusal to help immigrants integrate into our world, a refusal to warmly and compassionately enjoin the severely disabled in our lives and activities.  People of good heart do embrace, include and welcome people without respect to difference.  People of bad heart follow the letter of the law.  There is no societal and familial change without the heart open.  I have seen little change in the heart of man and an abundance of legislation.  Where is the real change?  While slurs are less overtly in evidence, while services for the handicapped are readily and reluctantly available, while fundamentalist religion poisons the rights of humanity to choose on issues dealing with human sexuality and reproductive choice, while the likes of Peter Singer echo the maladies of some "legitimated" contemporary ethics...what has changed?  Has the pool of people of good heart enlarged?
        As we become more indifferent we lose the trait that makes us human – compassion. And as Edmund Burke warned, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”   I am so reminded of Paddy Chayevsky's screen play, "Network", as Howard Beale proclaims over and over, "I'm mad and hell and I'm not going to take it anymore..."   
Howard Beale (Peter Finch) delivering his "mad  as
hell" speech in "Network"
       When I view my world and my son's world, I am filled with rage.  I do know that rage does not produce change.  When I view our worlds, others often impart to me the need to forgive the indifference and shortcomings of others.  Forgiveness, I believe, does not produce change.  Forgiveness seems to be a construct that allows the other, without acknowledgement of wrong or apology or change, to continue their behavior and allows the aggrieved to move on by repressing the rage.  Slow breathing and meditation does not produce change.
      I would rather choose my rage than opt for human indifference.  I would rather have no friends than accept those who are indifferent.  I choose not to forgive that which is unforgivable.  If you treat my son with indifference, if you assume that he is less than a full person, if you turn the other way because you are uncomfortable, I am filled with rage.  And why should it be otherwise?  You have taken beauty and purity and made it "no difference" if he did not exist.  So people still tell me times have changed?  Really?
       And what produces the change I desire?  Very little has a long enduring effect on the minds and hearts of people who are closed.  My inability to effect that change fills me with rage....this can't go on because rage poisons the body and soul.  It immobilizes you as an agent of human difference and engagement.  How do you move on?  There are few choices.
       I believe that it is vital to confront every instance of indifference that you encounter with a calm, deliberate, pointed statement of how this behavior effects and produces an unseen diminution of the full humanity of the person.  I believe that a clear explanation must be given of what our children need to be embraced and warmly accepted by that person, that friend or that relative.  I believe that if a person accepts and opens his heart to having been  indifferent to my son or others, then an apology must be given which recognizes that indifference, the effects on the victim, and a resolution for change.  Forgiveness  is always the function of a genuine apology. (On Apology by Aaron Lazare is one of the most influential books I have read on this topic.)
       If this approach fails, and it often will, there is no choice but to walk away. The guilt and shame of the indifferent who are so confronted is often very short-lived and allows them a "story" which they can use to walk away first.  There is no room in my son's life for either my rage at others' indifference or shame, or the negative energy that those indifferent others bring into his life.  I will never allow him to be of "no difference."  Both need to be excised with direct kindness and bold confrontation.  The failure of kind confrontation must be met with a sharp scalpel which excises the tumor and the cancer which can kill us both. 

Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction.  Elie Wiesel 

Never again...



  1. Hi Phil,

    What an amazing post! So much to say. I have been struggling with these issues for a long time, and it's always a work in progress.

    Your words put me in mind of a quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the great Jewish thinkers and a colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who marched with him in Selma. Heschel said: "The opposite of good is not evil; the opposite of good is indifference." How very true.

    I find myself very much out of the mainstream when it comes to my understanding of forgiveness, and that is because my understanding comes out of Jewish theology, in which forgiveness is not just a personal feeling, but a communal action. In the tradition, if someone does a wrong, in order to be forgiven, the person has to 1) acknowledge the wrong to the person wronged, 2) discuss how to make amends, 3) put the amends into action, and 4) show by his actions that he has really had a change of heart. Once all these things happen, forgiveness happens, because forgiveness is about mending relationships between people in order to build a stronger community; it is not simply about becoming peaceful in one's heart.

    Of course, there is also the necessity for that, but that's mainly done by acknowledging that the other person has a pure soul and is made in the image of God, *and* is making poor choices that are having an impact on the fabric of relationships, both personal and social. I don't think it's a bad thing to be outraged at the injustices that people perpetrate; to me, that shows a very good moral compass, and when well-channeled into loving and purposeful action, it gives one strength. But it's draining to remain outraged at particular people.

    Of course, it's very hard to come by a forgiveness that involves healing the fabric of relationships and community, because we live in such a highly self-absorbed, individualistic, alienated culture in which we have very little sense of community at all. So often, people just say, "I'm sorry," and then continue to go about their business.

  2. Rachel, It is indeed a very difficult topic without much guidance from the "outside" world. I loved your points of apology from the traditions and they are so similar to Aaron Lazare's points in his book, "On Apology." It is something which has the power to transform all of us and to produce the change that we all desire. Thanks for your thought provoking comments. It's an area of discussion and reflection that I hope to ponder and reflect upon more as time passes.

  3. Dearest Phil,

    Sorry, I've been wanting to get near a keyboard rather than tapping a reply on my phone.

    I love how you summed it up "If you treat my son with indifference, if you assume that he is less than a full person, if you turn the other way because you are uncomfortable, I am filled with rage. And why should it be otherwise?"

    Exactly, I agree that some anger/rage can be negative, but some anger and rage can be positive.

    Your rage to me is a positive rage, it's actually cool, calm and collected... it's an OUTrage at the indifference of people who probably aren't worth knowing in the first place.

    These people who are indifferent, closed minded are not measurable on an IQ test, as there doesn't seem to be a test for "imbecilic behaviour", I actually feel that the indifference is a form of bigotry, sounds a tad harsh... maybe?.... maybe not...

    I have had the honour to meet Adam, and standing in his presence, to me, his aura feels like the Sun. That is the only way I can describe it and has the utmost purity, and he so is a full person, just as you or I are.

    My theory is: Those who turn away from Adam, can feel the reflective difference of someone who is so loving and pure soul, and that feeling makes you reflect on how 'you' are and if you don't like what 'they' see/feel, 'they' turn away.

    In my short experience of "indifference", I have found "vocal shame", not uncontrolled rage, but controlled, 'I WILL say this even if it makes YOU uncomfortable...' to be quite effective. If their behaviour is offensive, I will now say it, rather than keeping stum, the recipient momentarily stiffens... but I like to think the next time they are meeting a physically impaired person, they would not be so 'indifferent or rude'.

    Fabulous post, you always blog about what we are all thinking x

    Sending huge Mel hugs to you all


  4. Mel...thanks for the very kind comments. You are always on target in your perceptions. I guess that we are taught at a young age that rage is not appropriate and that we should push aside all those "evil" feelings, but I am learned that calm. controlled rage can be channeled into a challenge of others to be better than they are. Unfortunately, my success rate at changing the perceptions and actions of others falls very short of my hopes and expectations. Things change but they really don't change. It's now become my challenge for years to come...I guess we all need a project. My warmest regards to all; please give Oatie a big hug for us all.


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