A Distant Pinch of Remorse

I recently read ‘Night’ by Elie Weisel. The book recounts his horrific experience, at the age of 16, in and between concentration camps during World War II. The book is as efficient as the death camps. He concisely outlines his suffering, human nature and what men do in the face of the most horrific crimes ever committed.

What comes to mind most when reading such a tale is how much I cannot relate to it. I have never suffered. I have never worried about food, shelter, or safety. In many ways, the book is pure fiction to me. I am not denying the crimes – I have been to concentration camps in Germany, I have visited the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam, and I am Jewish. In this life of privilege and comfort, how can we even begin to imagine the situation?

Permit me to depart for a moment from this dramatic example; I have tried to put myself in the same mind frame I had when I was in China, when I was 20, or even 6 months ago. I felt that considering it was my mind – only in a different state – I should be able to re-constitute the state of mind that I had and gain the same outlook on life that I previously had. I have yet to succeed. Which leads me to the idea: If I cannot reconstitute my life outlook from the very recent past, how can I possibly understand the mind frame of a holocaust victim, third world citizen or someone from the inner city? Is it impossible? And if so, what implication does this have for our capability to empathize with our fellow man.

No easy answers, no easy answers.

Published on October 5, 2006