“I don’t want to be your friend anymore.”
I stood in the high school classroom, looking down with disdain at my classmate. The image blurs at this point. Did her face crumple? Did tears fill her eyes? Did others hear my words? Memory fails on these details.
Age and distance have sharpened my focus. Now I see how cruel my words were. Now I see how indifferent I was to the effect of those words upon her heart. Now I see the cruelty and indifference that resided in my own heart.
She had done nothing wrong. In fact, she had done many things right, though I didn’t see that at the time. My excuses are manifold and pathetic: there were mitigating circumstances, I was young and easily swayed by others around me, it’s nothing that other people haven’t said and done before. That doesn’t take away my responsibility for my actions.
Recently, I read Mark Mustian’s novel The Gendarme. Emmett Conn, a WWI veteran, is close to death and suffers from memory loss. Past and present have blurred and through dreams, he takes a journey into his past as a Turkish gendarme. He begins to remember his role in the forced deportation of Armenians from Turkey, his indifference to their suffering, his justification of his actions, and how this death march decimated the Armenian population. At one point, a minor character tells Emmett-the-old-man,
“My mother always says that indifference is the greatest cruelty.”
And I was guilty of this cruelty.
Indifference has a thousand faces. A careless word. Silence while people are slaughtered. Ignoring another person’s grief. Maybe it flows from a deep-rooted prejudice or the inability to tame our tongues or just never taking the time to mail that sympathy card or make that phone call.
My indifference to another person’s feelings didn’t lead to genocide like the fictional Emmett’s did. But it led to hurt and a broken relationship.
When I was finally confronted about my actions, something clicked. I saw myself, all the nastiness and disdain and snobbery that were inside me, and regretted it. I apologized to my friend, and she found it in her heart to forgive me. But things still weren’t perfect afterwards. The trust between us had been broken.
How many times has this scenario been played out across the world? How many times has indifference led to loss of friends, marriages, lives? What will it take for us to open our eyes, set aside the mask of indifference, and care what happens to those around us?
Have you ever been indifferent to someone else’s feelings or needs, or had someone else be indifferent to you? How did it feel?