This New York Times article brings up a wonderful phrase sent in from a reader: “Hate is not the opposite of love, apathy is.”
It reminds me of a quotation in Richard Bach’s book “The Bridge Across Forever,” which goes, “The opposite of loneliness, it’s not togetherness. It is intimacy.” (By the way, I found that book intolerable, but that’s not pertinent to this post.)
I got intrigued by the love/apathy line, so I did some digging. One of my bugbears is when people are fast and loose with borrowing written language. You know what I mean: quotations that are used without attribution, when they are paraphrased or bastardized, or if they are simply apocryphal or inaccurate. My view is that written or spoken words are never meant to be extracted from their context and inserted onto a T-shirt or calendar without reference to their prior environment; quotations are not fungible commodities.
For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. is often cited — even in academic works — as saying, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” However, for a long time there was no written or audio evidence that he’d ever said that. When I last looked up this quotation around 2010, it seemed that the whole thing might have been made up. However, in 2014, PNHP pointed to two separate news articles showing that this phrase — if not verbatim — was at least in spirit uttered by King.
Another example is the line “Well-behaved women rarely make history,” which often gets attributed to Marilyn Monroe. In reality, it was first used by Harvard historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in the first paragraph of a paper she published in 1976. The actual line is “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Reading Ulrich’s biography — she is a highly respected historian who writes about the history of “ordinary people” — makes me wonder: Why does our culture feel the need to pass off this quotation as Marilyn Monroe’s? Is it any less profound when written by a groundbreaking feminist historian at Harvard? If I had a daughter, I’d be more excited if she were into Laurel Thatcher Ulrich than into Marilyn Monroe.
But going back to the love/apathy thing, the first source I turned to was The Yale Book of Quotations, which is pretty much the bible of quotation attribution. I bought the book in 2008, and perusing it over the years has given me much pleasure. Unfortunately, the book had only two quotations about apathy, and neither was the one I was looking for. I did like this one though from Robert M. Hutchins though:
The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.
So I turned to the Google. Elie Wiesel apparently referenced the line in a piece he wrote in U.S. News and World Report in 1986. But digging further, I did seem to find that it had been previously used by the author and academic Leo Buscaglia in his 1972 book “Love: What Life is All About.” I haven’t read the book myself, but I found the quotation in Amazon’s scanned copy on page 25:
I have a very strong feeling that the opposite of love is not hate — it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn. If somebody hates me, they must “feel” something about me or they couldn’t possibly hate. Therefore, there’s some way in which I can get to them. If you don’t like the scene you’re in, if you’re unhappy, if you’re lonely, if you don’t feel that things are happening, change your scene. Paint a new backdrop. Surround yourself with new actors. Write a new play. And if it’s not a good play, get the hell off the stage and write another one. There are millions of plays — as many as there are people. Nikus Kazantzakis says, “You have your brush and colors, paint paradise, and in you go. [Emphasis mine.]