Indifference? / by KR


Indifference #2
Originally uploaded by gaetans.
Off and on for the past few weeks I have listened to Viktor Frankl’s, Man's Search for Meaningwhile I run or drive long distances. You might know the book. It is a popular defining text in the psychoanalytic world, but it is, also, another brutally honest account of survival in Auschwitz and other camps.

The other day, listening to his detailed description of working in two-degree temperatures with guards hovering over him, looking for a chance to beat him, all while he is nothing more than skin stretched over bone because of starvation, I had to turn it off and sit in silence for awhile. It wasn’t the horror of his descriptions that got under my skin. It was the questions anyone asks eventually, “Could I have survived? Could I have made it through that? Or would I have picked a fight with a guard just so my death wouldn’t be suicide?”

My conclusion?

So far it leans towards the latter. I wouldn’t have made it. But the reason, I think, is because I am far too stubborn to put up with such blatant acts of personal injustice. It’s the same reasons I never would’ve faired well in the military. When someone wields power over me inappropriately I lash out. And from what I hear, this kind of behavior makes for a short painful life in concentration camps, or a long punishing career in the military.

But not so fast. Reading L'Engle, I am struck by a contrary reality. She says, “On Palm Sunday, in the Cathedral the congregation participates in acting out the Gospel, and we are the mob, and I choke as I shout out, Crucify him! Crucify him! I choke not because it is something I would never under any circumstances say, but because just as I do not know what I would have done had I been an ordinary German under Hitler’s regime, neither do I know what I would have done had I been caught up in that mob.” Nor, when I am honest enough, would I know what I would do in either place.

Here is a disturbing catch-22. Though I might lash out at an oppressor when it is my own skin being bashed, I am not so sure I would when it is another’s. That’s bothersome, to say the least.

I might fight to my death in Frankl’s camp because I’d rather die than live with myself so de-humanized. But If I was outside that camp living comfortably in a nearby small, German town, I might not lift a finger against the regime to help the Frankl’s of the world.

I have lived in neither circumstance and so don’t really know how I would act. All the same, it’s enough to bug me once in awhile. The fierceness of self-preservation and the apathy of indifference towards other’s preservation is a sad paradox. I know I am not engrossed in either/or reality. I do have enough hints of both in me that cause me to shudder in quieter moments.

To hear a great piece on these kinds of wrestling matches go to "This American Life: The Devil In Me." Better than a day at church, that is sure:)