If, as Elie Wiesel says, “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference,” I wonder why some people inspire equal parts adoration and loathing. The current presidential race, for example, highlights the almost 20-year love/hate affair the American public has with the Clintons. Individuals seem to either love Hillary or despise everything she represents.
Hillary is hardly the first person to inspire such strong feelings. History is littered with individuals who generate powerful emotions, both positive and negative. Without realizing it, I stumbled onto one of the more divisive figures when I was 11. An aunt, only six years older than I, was a fan of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Wanting to follow in her footsteps, I located a forgotten copy of Rand’s Anthem in my middle school library. At my age, the philosophy portion went right over my head, but it didn’t stop me from moving on to The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.
I know there are critics who have no liking for Rand’s writing, and I’ll admit to skipping over some of the individual soliloquies. However, on the whole, I enjoyed the stories for themselves, philosophy aside. I loved The Fountainhead because the main character, Howard Ruark, was an architect, a career I planned to pursue until the realities of calculus and physics intruded. In Atlas Shrugged, I found myself wishing I was the strong female lead, Dagny Taggert. I quietly enjoyed rereading these books throughout high school, even if I didn’t totally understand them. My classmates had no idea what I was reading, and the only comment the books seemed to generate was related to their size. Then, I got to college.
In my philosophy 101 course, I asked about Rand’s role in modern philosophy. My professor made no effort to conceal his loathing of Rand and also made it clear he thought less of me for asking the question. His reaction made me curious and eventually led to a research paper I did on Rand’s life in a writing course. While I don’t subscribe to or agree with all aspects of Rand’s philosophy, I’m still baffled by the anger often directed at Rand, which takes me back to Mr. Wiesel.
For instance, the loudest critics still generate attention for the individuals or causes they dislike the most. What would our world be like if we showed indifference to the people and the things we didn’t love? How would it change the marketing appeals made to consumers? What about parents and teenagers? How much of the behavior is driven by the idea that the kids know the parents hate it? Indifference carries a power of its own, one that we often overlook in our search for solutions.
Indifference leaves us with the time and energy to put into the things that actually counter the people and the causes we don’t agree with. Subscribing to indifference also leaves you room to change your mind, to refine your opinion. While love can be equally blinding, hate carries its own peculiar baggage. From my experience, it’s incredibly difficult to back away from hating something, less so to fall out of love. If the world only appears black and white, love and hate make sense, but the shades of gray that invade my daily life have made it clear that I need the option of indifference.