04/24/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Words of Wisdom from Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel says he is grateful. So much so that he constantly thanks everyone around him.
The waiter for their service. The taxi driver for the ride.

"There are no small things when it comes to gratitude," said the Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner and author of Night in a one-on-one interview. "Simply think if you or I can give a piece of bread to a hungry person, how grateful I am simply for being capable or adequate or wealthy enough to give that piece of bread."

This fits right into his mantra: "think higher and feel deeper."

The 81-year-old professor explained that thinking higher involves searching for meaning. It's not simply the act of giving bread. It's reflecting on what the gesture means by looking at it in relation to our social status and what we are grateful for. Feeling deeper involves feeling emotion from the very depths of our being.

"I want to sensitize my students. That is the real goal," he says. "And my listeners, when they hear me or they read me, they become more sensitive to another person's pain, another person's anguish, or to another person's joy."

Wiesel has dedicated his life to fighting indifference and intolerance. Through this personal mantra, he takes on the ultimate goal of connecting humanity. That, he hopes, will promote a more peaceful, more tolerant world.

"I have been a professor for so many years, which means I've taught thousands of young people. I can guarantee you that not one of them has ever chosen afterwards...the option of indifference," he says. "But, at the same time...morality does not play an important role in world affairs." He ponders how moral individuals become collective bystanders.

"It bothers me. It disturbs me. It pains me."

Wiesel describes himself as an idealist and a romantic. But, with politics often plagued by inaction, it's a position that's often emotionally painful to maintain.

"You hear about the economy, about strategy," he says. "But, not about morality."

That's why Wiesel places so much hope in the next generation.

Wiesel says today people are more in tune to the pain and suffering of their fellow man. In the 1930s, shortly before he entered Auschwitz as a 15-year-old, he points out only a handful of human rights organizations existed. Today, they are countless. And, although genocides existed prior to Wiesel's generation, today they are better documented and more widely taught. As a result, young people have developed a willingness to take action in order to prevent them from happening again.

"Rwanda, it remains a mark of shame on humanity's memory," he says. "Many of us had seen it coming, surely those in power. They could have prevented the massacre, the mass murder in Rwanda but they didn't.

"So therefore the children today say, what the generation of our parents hasn't done, we are not allowing it to happen again."

Wiesel points to Darfur as an example. The crisis in this region spawned protests and calls for action on college and university campuses around the world. While he admits the problem hasn't yet been solved as hunger and human rights violations still persist, this mass mobilization challenged governments to take action.

"Our outrage has prevailed upon our leaders to do something more than say a few nice words," he says. "This generation really gives me hope. But, I am biased. I am a teacher."

Still, he adds, his view of youth doesn't mean that older generations can't do their part. If everyone can think higher and feel deeper, then we each can play a role in fighting indifference.

"What I learned, I learned that there is always a child in us and I am responsible not just for the children that I teach but also for the child still in me," he says. "I don't want to disappoint that child."