The Worst Sin Towards Our Fellow Creatures Is Not To Hate Them, But To Be Indifferent To Them

George Bernard Shaw? Anthony Anderson? Wilhelm Stekel? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The playwright George Bernard Shaw apparently contended that indifference to another person was a greater transgression than hatred. He called this indifference a sin. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: George Bernard Shaw’s play “The Devil’s Disciple” was first performed in London in 1897. During the second act the character Anthony Anderson who is a minister hears his wife expressing hatred toward another character. He responds to her as follows. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

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.

The condemnation of indifference is expressed by one of Shaw’s characters and not directly by Shaw himself.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1891 a thematically related statement appeared in a newspaper in York, Pennsylvania published together with a group of miscellaneous “Sunday Reflections”: 2

Love conquers hate, but never indifference.

In 1909 the line about indifference from “The Devil’s Disciple” was placed into the compilation titled “The G. B. S. Calendar” which contained  quotations from Shaw for every day of the year: 3

The worst sin towards our fellow-creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.

Another thematically related statement appeared in the 1921 book “The Beloved Ego: Foundations of the New Study of the Psyche” by prominent Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Stekel. The translation to English from the original German was performed by Rosalie Gabler: 4

There is no love without hate; and there is no hate without love. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference; the opposite of feeling can only be the absence of feeling.

A separate QI article about the Stekel quotation is available here.

In 1957 “The Book of Unusual Quotations” compiled by Rudolf Flesch printed the quotation with an ascription to Shaw: 5

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity.
George Bernard Shaw

In 1969 the quotation appeared in “The International Dictionary of Thoughts: An Encyclopedia of Quotations from Every Age for Every Occasion”. 6

In conclusion, George Bernard Shaw deserves credit for the words he wrote in the 1897 play “The Devil’s Disciple”. The copyright date of the printed script was 1900. The words were spoken by a character within the play; hence, they may not reflect Shaw’s viewpoint.

Image Notes: The colored images symbolizing: hatred (frown), love (smile), and indifference from 95C (Felipe) at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Birdman196007, Andrew Klein, and Christopher Ridings whose twitter thread mentioned the quotations by George Bernard Shaw and Wilhelm Stekel which led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1906 (1900 Copyright), The Devil’s Disciple: A Melodrama by Bernard Shaw (George Bernard Shaw), (Play produced in London in 1897), Act II, (Line spoken by Anthony Anderson), Quote Page 82, Brentano’s, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1891 January 13, The York Daily, Sunday Reflections, Quote Page 1, Column 7, York, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1921 (1909 First Published on Book Form;, 1921 Fifth Edition), The G. B. S. Calendar: A Quotation from the Works of George Bernard Shaw for Every Day in the Year, Selected by Marion Nixon, Date: January Fourteen, Quote Page 10, Cecil Palmer, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  4. 1921, The Beloved Ego: Foundations of the New Study of the Psyche by Wilhelm Stekel M.D., Translation by Rosalie Gabler (Member of the British Psychological Society and of the Society for the Study of Orthopsychics), Chapter 2: The Fight of the Sexes, Quote Page 16, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1957, The Book of Unusual Quotations, Compiled by Rudolf Flesch, Topic: Indifferent, Quote Page 132, Column 1, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans)
  6. 1969, The International Dictionary of Thoughts: An Encyclopedia of Quotations from Every Age for Every Occasion, Compiled by John P. Bradley, Leo F. Daniels, Thomas C. Jones, Topic: Indifference, Quote Page 390, Column 2, J. G. Ferguson Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans)