I recently listened to an interview with the late Elie Wiesel, who was a writer, professor, Holocaust survivor, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. (He wrote 57 books including Night about his experiences in Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp and Buchenwald concentration camp.)
He said that though he's hesitant to prescribe a "formula" for how to live—since everything is so personal and individual—he consistently shared this message with many of his students:
I felt moved to share those four words this week. Four words that, I believe, could be transformative if you lean into them fully.
I went to Poland in September to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. I was in Europe paying respect to my ancestry and, since my maternal grandmother was one-hundred percent German, I felt compelled to visit what must be one of the most abhorrent manmade monstrosities in the history of the human race. I believe in looking at and learning from all sides of the past.
I have nothing profound to say about my personal experience visiting the camp. (I recommend reading Night or visiting any number of Holocaust museums. In NYC, the Museum of Jewish Heritage is worth a visit.) Any words I could string together about Auschwitz-Birkenau would inherently come up short. The horror of the place defies the bounds of language and logic. As I walked through the grounds, my mind felt unable to compute what I was seeing; it's the closest I've been to hell on earth.
Yet, I was there by choice for a day trip from Krakow. The next day, I'd bus to Berlin. Elie Wiesel was sent there as a teenager and forced to labor with his father in unspeakable conditions. His mother and younger sister were murdered immediately upon arrival. His advice?
Feeling deeper is something many of us are trained to avoid. Emotions are seen as useless and excessive in a full-blown capitalistic society, so we've been taught to shut off our emotions—especially negative ones. But when we shut down before we can truly feel things, we stunt our emotional growth.
"Darkness is your candle.
Your boundaries are your quest."
Wiesel adamantly condemns indifference. I consider indifference the opposite of feeling deeply.
"Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil...The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference. Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies. To be in a window and watch people being sent to concentration camps or being attacked in the street and do nothing, that's being dead."
My wish for you is that you may feel deeper this week, even if that pushes you beyond comfortable boundaries. It is only through feeling that you can get in touch with the essence of being alive, the essence of our interconnectedness.
I believe we are all one. And if you allow yourself to feel deeper, you will naturally begin feeling connected with other people, even people whom you perceive as wildly different than yourself. The more you feel deeply into your own emotions, the more compassion you have for others, and as your compassion grows, you begin to actively create a more loving world. A world where—one can hope—the terrible atrocities of the past are never replicated in the future.
Because some are guilty, but all are responsible.
As George Orwell says: "Either we all live in a decent world, or nobody does."
Creating a decent world starts with you. Think higher. Feel deeper. Your boundaries are your quest.
with Love and with Light,