I didn’t know it was Elie Wiesel who articulated it until I looked it up for this blog, but one of my favorite concepts is the idea that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. I think as counselors we get a lot of mileage out of this, especially with couples.
I am not very good at marital counseling, so I use it in a different context. When we are talking about mindfulness, I tell people that the opposite of attachment is not rejection, but indifference.
This is important. When we first become aware of our thoughts as being thoughts, our tendency is to argue with them. This is better than letting them run amok, but we cannot stop here. Rejecting thoughts keeps us attached to them, indifference is the only way to freedom.
Think of it this way.
I walk out of my office, and some random guy walks by on the sidewalk and whispers something I disagree with.
“Jet fuel can’t melt steel beams.”
“9-11 was an inside job.”
“Vaccines cause autism.”
“There is no link between vaccines and autism.”
Whatever, this person says something.
This statement, made by this random person, can cause attachment if I agree with them. Maybe I stop them and we talk and agree with each other and hug at the end.
Or, I stop them to tell them that they are wrong and exactly why they are wrong. We yell about it for 20 minutes, we do not hug at the end.
In both instances I am attached to this person and what they have to say.
By conceptualizing something’s opposite, we are conceptualizing the thing itself.
Here’s the real question too: why would we be anything but indifferent toward a vast majority of our thoughts? They float in and out, making random observations, criticizing, complaining, talking to talk. It’s like having a toddler or a teenager living in our head, and for some reason we invest in them.
Thoughts come and thoughts go. They have no effect if we just let them drift, but latching on – whether by accepting or rejecting their “truth” – puts us into a place of engagement with them.
Sure, this doesn’t matter a whole lot of the time, but what about the thoughts that plague us and affect our relationships and potential as people?
“I shouldn’t have said that, I sounded stupid.”
“That would be fun, but I would probably screw it up.”
“I don’t really have any business trying something like that.”
“I’ll never be able to quit.”
“I deserve a day to do nothing.”
“I can always make up for the lost work.”
“I don’t have to tolerate that!”
“I deserve better than them.”
Thoughts have this really dangerous trick where they say “I”, and make us think it’s “us” thinking them, so we are more likely to take them at face value.
Learning that thoughts are just thoughts and not believing everything we think can have a tremendously freeing impact on our lives.
Cultivate indifference toward the things that don’t have to matter. See what happens.