Doug Roche

Presence of indifference reveals failure to love

  • December 7, 2023

Recently, I have been thinking about indifference, which seems to me to be the defining attitude of our times. At least, I thought of indifference as an attitude. Then I was asked to reflect on a statement by St. Teresa of Kolkata which included these words: “The greatest evil in the world is the lack of love, the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbour.”

By linking indifference to a lack of love, Mother Teresa made it clear that indifference is not so much an attitude or a state of mind. Rather, it is a failure to act in a situation where we have a responsibility to act. Indifference is the act of turning oneself from a responsible agent into a guilty bystander.

In his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis asks, “Is not the indifference and the heartless individualism into which we have fallen also a result of our sloth in pursuing higher values, values that transcend our immediate needs?” Rather than seeking comfort, security, wealth or honour, we ought to strive for higher values of goodness, truth and beauty.

I thought of all this in the light of Doug Roche’s latest book, Keep Hope Alive: Essays for a War-Free World. This is Roche’s 26th book. Many of them focus on issues of peace and development. At age 94, Roche refuses to become indifferent. After a life as Catholic journalist, member of Parliament, senator, Canadian ambassador for disarmament and other public roles, he is still calling out, begging government leaders and ordinary citizens not to fall asleep at the switch, to become engaged with issues that determine whether humanity will survive or destroy itself.

At his book launch on Nov. 4 at Edmonton’s Audrey’s Bookstore, Roche gave an impassioned, albeit brief, talk urging those present to write elected officials and encourage them to work for nuclear disarmament. It’s fine to have personal opinions about major issues, but unless we express them to our leaders, we are guilty of indifference.

Roche hears the clock ticking, both in his own life and for a world seemingly indifferent to its own survival. So, instead of enduring the lengthy process of publishing through traditional means, he self-published Keep Hope Alive. While not widely available, one can find it on and in some bookstores.

The book is a collection of 30 brief previously unpublished essays. In his introduction, Roche states his theme: “The wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Ukraine all resulted from a clash of cultures, misreadings of history and a steady erosion of the United Nations as the principal guardian of peace.” He goes on to further link the threat to global peace to poverty, the climate crisis and the political and economic power of the arms industry.

Most egregious is the hold that nuclear weapons’ states have on the UN Security Council and their abject refusal to enter serious discussions for the eventual abolition of nuclear arms. The countries which currently possess such weapons are willing to endorse nuclear non-proliferation since it means nations without such armaments must pledge not to develop them. But as for their own weapons, they are not merely indifferent, they openly oppose any culling of their vast arsenals. Indeed, they have set out to modernize those arsenals, ensuring they will have nuclear weapons available for decades to come.

This year, governments around the world are spending more than $2.2 trillion on their militaries but only $30 billion to support the activities of the UN, including its peacekeeping forces and development programs. The United States’ $826 billion military budget is greater than that of the next 10 largest military spenders combined.

If all this does not sound like a recipe for hope, Roche does see the ingredients for that as well. We should take heart from how proponents of non-violence, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, have helped overcome evils such as colonialism and racial discrimination.

The UN’s sustainable development goals are reducing the worst forms of poverty and hunger. Public opposition to nuclear weapons is gaining ground around the world. International standards of human security are being put in place. These and several other trends are signs of the growing movement toward global peace.

What should we do? Roche puts great stock in writing letters to elected officials. One letter may not itself institute change, but the combined voices of thousands may. We need to rise above our indifference.

(Glen Argan writes his online column Epiphany at

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