Indifference–a Most Unexpected Angle


In my last post, I shared a Czeslaw Milosz poem that seems to have echoes in many other works by many other poets. Anyone who has studied or simply read deeply of literature and mythology knows that writers’ fascination with life and death leads to thoughts of the world’s curious indifference to us.

Yes, we are subjective animals, especially when it comes to our favorite topic–ourselves. The world, however, is an objective entity. It rolls on. Whether we are sick or healthy, sad or happy, dead or alive, means nothing to it.

How, the subjective and reflective human asks, can something so beautiful (the world) remain so indifferent (uncaring), especially to someone as sensitive and thoughtful as me, myself, and I?

The theme of indifference not only preoccupied a set of poems I wrote, it also led me to unexpected places, one being a man I knew little (OK, nothing) about–a 16th-century Spanish soldier fascinated with courtly love and tales of brave knights (Don Quixote, anyone?). This Don became famous for other reasons. He became a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, a man called St. Ignatius of Loyola, now famous for founding the Jesuits.

The quixotic Ignatius turned the word “indifference” on its uncaring head. He saw it as a noble trait, one we all should seek.

What, you ask? Why be uncaring sorts when we’ve been taught otherwise since childhood? Because Ignatius meant that we should be “indifferent to all created things.” Good and bad, lovely and horrid, admirable and reprehensible.” Steel yourself and accept, in other words. This is your objective world in all its horror and glory.

This new interpretation of the word fascinates because it goes to our human weak point. Our subjectivity. Our love of self. Its precept is simple: We shouldn’t care if we are healthy or sick, enjoying ourselves or suffering, because whatever occurs is God’s will.

If you distrust matters religious, you can simply see it as fate or a case of Doris Day-like que sera sera. In which case, indifference looks almost like the Stoic’s shield. You are admired because you are indifferent to what life brings to you. You do not for a minute consider yourself special or deserving or the exception to everyone else’s rules.

In that case, being labeled “indifferent” becomes a red badge of courage. It is the defeat of selfishness and ego. And you thought word denotations were simple and well-behaved!

Have an indifferent day. If you dare.



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