Quotes on Speaking Out, Taking Action and Indifference
It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.
- Samuel Adams
The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.
- Dante Alighieri
Under conditions of tyranny it is far easer to act than to think.
- Hannah Arendt
Action is the antidote to despair.
- Joan Baez
"Protest that endures...is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities
in one's own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence."
- Wendell Berry
"When I tell the truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending
those that do."
- William Blake
The constitutional right of free speech has been declared to be the same in peace and war. In peace, too, men may differ widely
as to what loyalty to our country demands, and an intolerant majority, swayed by passion or by fear, may be prone in the future,
as it has been in the past, to stamp as disloyal opinions with which it disagrees.
- Louis D. Brandeis
"Not the faults of others, nor what others have done or left undone, but one's own deeds, done and left undone, should one consider."
- Buddha [50th Stanza from the Dhammapada (The Path of Wisdom)]
Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.
- Edmund Burke
I]n such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, not to be on the side
of the executioners.
- Albert Camus
Men do less than they ought, unless they do all that they can.
- Thomas Carlyle
We cloak ourselves in cold indifference to the unnecessary suffering of others – even when we cause it.
- James Carroll
One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others.
- Lewis Carroll
To the wrongs that need resistance,
To the right that needs assistance,
To the future in the distance,
- Carrie Chapman Catt
"If you assume that there's no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct
for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, there's a chance for you to contribute to making a better world.
That's your choice."
- Noam Chomsky [The Chronicles of Dissent]
"My generation's apathy. I'm disgusted with it. I'm disgusted with my own apathy too, for being spineless and not always
standing up against racism, sexism and all those other -isms the counterculture has been whinning about for years."
- Kurt Cobain (1967-1994), American musician and singer (grunge rock band Nirvana)
"Philosophy should always know that indifference is a militant thing. It batters down the walls of cities and murders
the women and children amid the flames and the purloining of altar vessels. When it goes away it leaves smoking ruins,
where lie citizens bayonetted through the throat. It is not a children's pastime like mere highway robbery."
- Stephen Crane
He who allows oppression, shares the crime.
- Erasmus Darwin
"People who advocate freedom, yet deprecate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain
without the awful roar of the thunder and lightning. Without struggle, there is no progress. This struggle might be a moral one.
It might be a physical one. It might be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand.
It never did and it never will. People may not get all that they pay for in this world, but they certainly pay for all that they get."
- Frederick Douglas (1817-1896)
"Maybe the greatest sin is neither of these two ancient ones [the lust for power and hubris]; the greatest sin may be the new
twentieth-century sin of indifference:"
- Peter Drucker [Adventures of a Bystander, John Wiley and Sons 1994]
It is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs.
- Albert Einstein
The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing...
- Albert Einstein
Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act."
- Albert Einstein
"Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels – men and women who dare to dissent
from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, we may never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion."
- Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), 34th US President, WWII General [Speech, Columbia University, 1954]
"But this is slavery, not to speak one's thought."
- Euripides (480-406 B.C.) [The Phoenician Women, 411-409 B.C.]
What shall we say when history asks how such crimes came to be committed in the name of America? Will we say that we stood silently
by, shrugging our shoulders, filling our bellies, closing our eyes? Or will we be able to say: We saw. We dissented. We resisted.
- Chris Floyd, American journalist and political watchdog
As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.
- Benjamin Franklin
Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.
- Paulo Freire
I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not
refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do.
- Edward Everett Hale
Americans cannot escape a certain responsibility for what is done in our name around the world. In a democracy, even one
as corrupted as ours, ultimate authority rests with the people. We empower the government with our votes, finance it
with our taxes, bolster it with our silent acquiescence. If we are passive in the face of America's official actions overseas,
we in effect endorse them.
- Mark Hertzgaard
It is easier to find a score of men wise enough to discover the truth than to find one intrepid enough, in the face
of opposition to stand up for it.
Live truth instead of professing it.
- Elbert Hubbard
A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers – and this is the basis
of all human morality.
- John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), 35th US President
Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of the colleagues, the wrath of their society.
Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality
for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. Each time a person stands up for an idea, or acts
to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, (s)he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other
from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls
of oppression and resistance.
- Robert F. Kennedy
The evils of government are directly proportional to the tolerance of the people.
- Frank Kent
A time comes when silence is betrayal.
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. [April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City]
History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor
of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document
from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.
A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift, is approaching
I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures
like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled
to see the war as an enemy of the poor.
- Rev. Martin Luther King
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling
silence of the good people.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), US civil rights leader
If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.
- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular?
But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor
politic, nor popular- but one must take it simply because it is right.
- Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)
The great only appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise.
- James Larkin [Statue on O'Connell Street, Dublin, Ireland]
To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.
- Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th U.S. president
I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.
- John Locke
...so there are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage,
or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the
most ready to lament and condemn. In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body
of citizens, in order to check the misguided career and to suspend the blow meditated by the people upon themselves, until reason, justice
and truth can regain their authority over the public mind?
- Publius (Madison), Federalist No. 63.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
- Margaret Mead
A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.
- Edward R. Murrow
First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up, because
I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.
- Pastor Martin Neimoller, Concentration camp Survivor
What is the great Amercican sin? Extravagance? Vice? Graft? No; it is a kind of half-humorous, good-natured indifference,
a lack of "concentrated indignation" as my English friend calls it, which allows extravagance and vice to flourish.
Trace most of our ills to their source, and it is found that they exist by virtue of an easy-going, fatalistic indifference
which dislikes to have its comfort disturbed... The most shameless greed, the most sickening industrial atrocities, the most
appalling public scandals are exposed, but a half-cynical and wholly indifferent public passes them by with hardly a shrug
of the shoulders; and they are lost in the medley of events. This is the great American sin.
- Joseph Fort Newman [Atlantic Monthly, October 1922]
The voice of protest, of warning, of appeal is never more needed than when the clamor of fife and drum, echoed by the press
and too often by the pulpit, is bidding all men fall in and keep step and obey in silence the tyrannous word of command.
Then, more than ever, it is the duty of the good citizen not to be silent.
- Charles Eliot Norton (1827-1908), American scholar
Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore [individual citizens]
have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.
- Nuremberg War Crime Tribunal, 1950
If large numbers of people believe in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech even if the law forbids it. But if
public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.
- George Orwell [Eric Arthur Blair] (1903-1950), British author
By far the most dangerous foe we have to fight is apathy – indifference from whatever cause, not from a lack of knowledge,
but from carelessness, from absorption in other pursuits, from a contempt bred of self satisfaction.
- William Osler, Canadian Physician (1849-1919)
He who dares not offend cannot be honest.
- Thomas Paine
The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.
- Rosa Parks, seamstress, civil rights leader (1913- )
Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you.
- Pericles, 430 B.C.
Our job this day is to become part of the answer to the world's immense and protracted suffering rather than continuing our
ancient task of being part of the difficulty.
- Hugh Prather, Author and minister
Publius: See James Madison
In the last analysis we must be judged by what we do and not by what we believe. We are as we behave
- with a very small margin
of credit for our unmanifested vision of how we might behave if we could take the trouble.
- Geoffrey L. Rudd [The British Vegetarian, September/October 1962]
I have always held firmly to the thought that each one of us can do a little to bring some portion of misery to an end.
- Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) Humanitarian, Theologian, Philosopher, Physician, Nobel Peace Prize 1952
Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better;
the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.
- Haile Selassie
Every great historic change has been based on nonconformity, has been bought either with the blood or with the reputation
- Ben Shahn (1898-1969) [Atlantic Monthly, September 1957]
The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity.
- George Bernard Shaw
The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie. One word of truth outweighs the world.
- Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918- ) Russian writer, Soviet dissident, imprisoned for 8 years for critizing Stalin
in a personal letter, Nobel Prize for Literature, 1970
The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy
are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), reformer, writer, lecturer
The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose
and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important,
major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing – for the sheer fun and joy of it –
to go right ahead and fight, knowing you're going to lose. You mustn't feel like a martyr. You've got to enjoy it.
- I.F. Stone, now-deceased muckraker who exposed corruption at the highest levels of government during his lifetime [Daily Dig]
Apathy is the glove into which evil slips its hand.
- Bodie Thoene
If... the machine of government... is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then,
I say, break the law.
- Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobediance, 1849
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot
on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
- Bishop Desmond Tutu (1931- ), Nobel Prize for Peace 1984
It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.
- Mark Twain
In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds,
the timid join him for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.
- Mark Twain [Samuel Langhornne Clemens] (1835-1910)
I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps
the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
- Elie Weisel
It is the utmost folly – it is just short of suicide – to take the position that citizens of any country should hold their tongues
for fear of causing distress to the immediate and sometimes tortuous policies of their leaders.
- Wendell Lewis Willkie
I would rather lose in a cause that will some day win, than win in a cause that will some day lose.
- Woodrow Wilson
They say that we are disturbing the peace, but there is no peace. What really bothers them is that we are disturbing the war.
- Howard Zinn
Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that numbers of people all
over the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions
have been killed because of this obedience... Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face
of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails
are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem.
- Howard Zinn ["Failure to Quit", p.45]