Thursday, November 13, 2014


The environmental website One Green Planet recently published a list of quotations on animal rights and against animal cruelty. Unsurprisinly, the list includes a quotation by Bernard Shaw

"The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them."

This quotation, taken from act II of The Devil's Disciple is not, however, directly related to animals, but rather to fellow human beings at large. Below is the larger context, a conversation between Judith and Anderson:  

 JUDITH. But Richard said— 

ANDERSON (goodhumoredly cutting her short). Pooh! Richard said! He said what he thought would frighten you and frighten me, my dear. He said what perhaps (God forgive him!) he would like to believe. It's a terrible thing to think of what death must mean for a man like that. I felt that I must warn him. I left a message for him.
JUDITH (querulously). What message?
ANDERSON. Only that I should be glad to see him for a moment on a matter of importance to himself; and that if he would look in here when he was passing he would be welcome.
JUDITH (aghast). You asked that man to come here!
JUDITH (sinking on the seat and clasping her hands). I hope he won't come! Oh, I pray that he may not come!
ANDERSON. Why? Don't you want him to be warned?
JUDITH. He must know his danger. Oh, Tony, is it wrong to hate a blasphemer and a villain? I do hate him! I can't get him out of my mind: I know he will bring harm with him. He insulted you: he insulted me: he insulted his mother.
ANDERSON (quaintly). Well, dear, let's forgive him; and then it won't matter.
JUDITH. Oh, I know it's wrong to hate anybody; but—
ANDERSON (going over to her with humorous tenderness). Come, dear, you're not so wicked as you think. The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity. After all, my dear, if you watch people carefully, you'll be surprised to find how like hate is to love. 

This quotation, of course, brings to mind two of the most popular topics of discussion among Shavians. The first, Shaw's concern for animal rights - including his vegetarianism - is often summarized in his famous words, reproduced in Hesketh Pearson's Bernard Shaw: A Biography

"My will con­tains directions for my funeral, which will be followed not by mourning coaches, but by herds of oxen, sheep, swine, flocks of poultry, and a small travelling aquarium of live fish, all wearing white scarves in honour of the man who perished rather than eat his fellow-creatures. It will be, with the excep­tion of the procession into Noah's Ark, the most remarkable thing of the kind ever seen." 

The second idea, that of indifference being one of the worst feelings we can hold for others, even worse than hatred, is frequently found in Shaw's writings. For example, the preface to Heartbreak House reads: 

"It is difficult to say whether indifference and neglect are worse than false doctrine."

As usual, then, Shaw's words are multifaceted and hardly ever a straightforward message, but we must not be indifferent to them - lest we become indifferent to our fellow inhabitants of this planet we call Earth. 

1 comment:

  1. A little something to complement the post: