How to Be an Upstander: Acting against Indifference | Facing History & Ourselves
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How to Be an Upstander: Acting against Indifference

A student describes the impact of her “Dangers of Indifference” course on her worldview and how it connects with the tenets of her faith.

In my senior year at Magnificat High School in Cleveland, I signed up to take a class on the Holocaust called “Dangers of Indifference.”

The class was unique in that three teachers taught it: a history teacher, an art teacher, and a religion teacher. Having these three perspectives helped me understand something I had not realized before—that hatred is not the largest problem we face, indifference is.

Indifference to other humans and lack of compassion toward those who suffer injustice is the real issue our global community must confront. We looked at the historical implications of instances of mass violence in human history, particularly the Holocaust. We read speeches Hitler gave, did an in-depth study of the book Night by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, and examined the actions and historical moments that lead to the murder of millions. We created illustrations and wrote down quotations in books we made from second-hand texts and plaster of Paris. We also looked at our own lives. Did we see any of the same political and cultural conditions that lead to the Holocaust in our own time? 

The class helped me to see that history is more than something that happened in the past. It is also a grim reminder of our potential future.

I began to ask myself, What can I do? How can I help?

The answer my teachers helped me to understand was clear and concise: Act. 

My school is grounded in Catholic principles, and the religious implications of the class were clear: We have a duty, as Catholics, not only to learn our religion, but to enact it. I remember reading a poem from Father Pedro Arrupe, a 20th-century Jesuit priest. In the poem “Fall in Love,” Arrupe writes, "Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." 

Throughout my education, my teachers have shown me that to love in an absolute, final way is to help, to dedicate yourself to fellow human beings so thoroughly that you cannot imagine a world in which injustices towards them should go unserved. 

The best way to stay in love is to let this calling help you find your path in life. 

“Dangers of Indifference” taught me that actions are not choices—they are our obligation. Choice, instead, is found in our understanding of the dangers that go hand-in-hand with indifference, and that indifference comes in many forms. We can be indifferent to the plight of men, but we can also be indifferent to knowledge. Distancing and desensitizing oneself from the lessons of the past is also indifference.

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