Quotes out of Context

I am a great lover of quotes. I collect them, repurpose them, substitute entire works for them (hey I never said I earned my degree). I think it’s okay as long as I acknowledge that out of context I don’t know what the author exactly meant by it. But it means something to me; speaks to something deep inside that I believe very strongly, I just don’t have ability to express it so concisely, nor the desire to expound. So I want to make up for all my past intellectual laziness (and disrespect for the intellectual in quotation) by starting a new series wherein I examine in as much detail as I can muster what a particularly resonating quote means to me. Then I’ll find the context and see how my imposed meaning differs from the intended one. So, the first quote is:

wiesel-quote

This one made a lasting impression on my 17-year-old self searching for “quotes about love”, and after all my experience with both extremes rings even truer to this day. Love and hate certainly have more in common than it seems. But why?

This phenomenon of coming to hate someone you once loved is truly one of the most mystifying aspects of our psyches. People seem to reserve their worst behaviour for those had once only seen the best in and were their best around. The love/hate coin is flips faster than we could ever expect.

I’ve spent a lot of time/coping mechanisms trying to intellectualize this is and here’s my best analysis:

Being in any intimate relationship is to break the surface of standard human interaction into a place of total comfort, where you can be yourselves and feel that your self – warts and all – is accepted unconditionally. We feel safe. It’s where we all want to be in the company of others.

These relationships naturally breed expectations, like that each will be consistent, committed, and fight fair – in the name of love. The closer you feel, the higher these expectations; the higher the expectations, the more likelihood of failing them. The vulnerable partner takes this fall from grace as a form of betrayal (of who you appeared to be), which they take as a direct hit (one could argue it’s their fault all along for failing to see and accept the other as human).

So when we feel betrayed by that person, whether real or perceived, we take it so much harder than we would if it were just a friend, or someone we can just shrug off as “not really knowing me” or “has their own issues I don’t know about”. When it’s with someone we feel connected to on the deepest level, who created a space in this confusing world where everything was to be trusted and made sense, the betrayal is almost existential.

Just as each intimate relationship is a uniquely new feeling, so is each betrayal, so we have no frame of reference or societal script for what the correct reaction is. We are in full-on feeling mode and tend to lose control of ourselves that way. The only remedy is time – time to adjust to our new worldview. I guess, the more influence the person had on your life, the more time it will take.

So, that’s how I see that love and hate are more related than it seems. Indifference is just a lack of feeling where there never was to begin with.

Now, my analysis only explains how what we once felt as love can turn into hate, not how love and hate can exist simultaneously. That I don’t believe. But someone who does could also use this quote as support, since it’s so vague. So…maybe I need a more precise quote, or stop using this one at least. Hmm. I’m glad I did this.

Now I will take a look at the origin of the quote and its intended meaning.

“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.”

And was said by Nobel prize winner and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in an interview to US media in 1986. That’s all the context I could find.

So it seems it’s not about love in relationships in particular, but about indifference being the “epitome” of evil (which he says so in another quote) from a sociopolitical standpoint, more in the tune of this out-of-context quote:

CmY_qR4WIAA_YeP

I get his intended meaning. Voter apathy letting evil powers that be reign and all that. Not stepping out of the shadows of silence/ignorance when there’s something obviously wrong going on in society. Very bad. But…the opposite? If love is the good guys and hate is the bad guys, then it seems like indifference – not choosing sides – is right there in the moral middle of the two, not the epitome of evil as he says…?

Discuss!

8 thoughts on “Quotes out of Context

  1. I love this idea, Jess! I find that for Wiesel indifference is the most dreadful, hideous thing; so much that the opposite of love, beauty, faith or life is indifference, not evil, ugliness, heresy or death. If that is so, then indifference – not taking sides, IS NOT in the moral middle of love and hate. But sometimes being forced to takes sides can lead to intolerance. Trying to see the two sides of an issue and understand the point of view of the two sides is key for peaceful living. But I know, sometimes you have to be strong and take a stand. I cannot see any goodness on Present Nicolas Maduro’s political project so if I were a Venezuelan I could not possibly try to conciliate.

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  2. I was also thinking that an argument could go like this: in a case of injustice, not acting but having the potential power to stop evil could said to be worst than evil because the perpetrator’s mind is already set in his evil way (he would need help from society to change), but the witness has clear choice which gives her power. Indifference then is like a conscious choice of evil having had real freedom to choose goodness.

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    • Yes, certainly indifference instead of good is more akin to evil, but what I’m having trouble with is how behaving or feeling indifferently instead of evil is more evil than taking the side of evil itself (is what I gather from quote about how we MUST take sides, whether good or evil)

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      • But Jess, I doubt he meant that indifference is more evil than taking the side of evil itself. I know that strictly speaking, saying ‘taking sides’ includes taking the side of evil. But context is important and he probably was talking about the indifference of world powers like the US during the holocaust.

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      • One can be indifferent to many things like: tea drinkers, gender, style of clothing, etc. but indifference is one of those “hungry” nouns looking for a “to _____” to make it function as an evaluative term. So, yes, in context it describes most of the world during the holocaust.
        One sense = it doesn’t matter
        another sense = it does matter.

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