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Oct 17, 2005

Wiesel on Silence


photo from Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.*

Lately I have been thinking of the distinctions between activism and setting a quiet example.  Elie Wiesel has a quote that speaks to one part of this.

No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.

We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them.  Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.

...And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endurse suffering and humiliation.  We must always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

- Elie Wiesel, quoted in The Spirituality of Imperfection by Kurtz and Ketcham.

The secondary title to the book is "storytelling and the journey to wholeness."  Kurtz and Ketcham follow the Wiesel quote with seven words to end a chapter.  "And this is why we tell stories."


*A photo of Wiesel smiling? At first I thought this quote deserved a more serious expression.  But then I thought of how joy is an opposite of suffering and humiliation.  And that joy is something that has to be experienced if it's worth working for.  Some years ago an aquaintance apologized for not laughing at one of my jokes.  "I'm sorry," he said, "but I'm not one for appreciating humor.  For as long as there's suffering in the world, I have trouble smiling."  I hope that has changed for him.  I really do.

11:19 PM in Quotables | Permalink


Great post, Phil, including the picture and the anecdote about your sadly unsmiling colleague. I heard Wiesel speak in Pasadena, CA, a few years ago and he was wonderful . . . insightful, humble, inspiring.

Posted by: Lisa | Oct 18, 2005 1:23:55 AM

One of my favorite quotations is by Elie Weisel: "The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference." Forgive me if it's not exact: I'm remembering it, and can't find a reference.

Posted by: Joseph H. Vilas | Oct 18, 2005 10:44:27 AM

I too saw Weisel speak a couple years ago, and he was riveting. When he spoke it was like I had tunnel vision - I could only focus on him and everything else went blurry.

I also learned how exactly to pronounce his last name, which made me very happy.

Posted by: Darcy | Oct 18, 2005 1:58:36 PM

How is the name Wiesel correctly pronounced?

Posted by: T. Varas | Nov 30, 2005 2:40:31 PM

Well, I'm glad Phil alerted me to the query above, because I never would have found it, or even thought to look. That's what I get for saying something like that and then not actually writing down how to pronouce the word. I get distracted...

Anyway, you pronouce Weisel as "wuh-Zell".

So his name is actually nice and rhythmic: ELL-ee wuh-ZELL.

Posted by: E | Nov 30, 2005 4:19:01 PM

Joe wrote: "One of my favorite quotations is by Elie Weisel: "The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference." Forgive me if it's not exact: I'm remembering it, and can't find a reference."

A version of this made its way into the episode of Cheers when Frasier makes a testy remark about Lilith, whom he's only met once or twice but is about to debate on a TV program. Observing this, Diane and Sam discuss like this (more or less):

Diane: Oh my -- Frasier is enamored of Lilith!
Sam: What are you talking about? Didn't you just hear him? He hates her.
Diane (condescendingly): Sam, don't you know? Hatred is not the opposite of love. Indifference is.
Sam (turning away, washing glasses): Whatever you say, Diane. I don't care.

I saw this episode for the first time when I was a senior in college. For a long time afterward, I thought about it whenever I tried to remember whether "enamored of" meant "loved by" or "loved". I think I have it straight, now.

Posted by: Phil | Jul 29, 2007 10:34:11 PM

Ellie Wiesel is a wonderful writer and he has made me think about how to hollicost really was and made me appreciate it more.

Posted by: nicole | Oct 30, 2007 6:21:19 PM

I'm trying to find a quotation and its author. I'm not quite sure how it went, but it was something like this
First the took away the the old and the sick and I did nothing then they took away the Jews and I still did nothing and now they are coming to take away me. Any help would be very much appreciated.
Thank you!

Posted by: Bruce Boudia | Nov 13, 2008 8:09:46 AM