Two days ago, I finished collaborating on the mix of a song I wrote for my mother, who has been singing rhythm and blues for four decades. The song is called “The Gospel of Longfellow” and is my first attempt at R & B.
The refrain in the piece is based on a quote by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”
I’ve always been touched by that quote (which Longfellow penned shortly following his wife’s horrific death in a fire).
I take it to mean that if we had access not so much to the content of another’s journey but to the inner reality of the person, we would see that he or she is not so different from us, after all.
We would see that the words and actions we have deemed unjust or evil are the person’s best attempts to achieve “the Good” according to the understanding and worldview formed by his/her unique life experiences.
Just like ourselves.
This is perhaps what empathy and compassion is about, and admittedly, it doesn’t come easily for me at times. But it helps to look at it all from this perspective.
Just watched the Spielberg film, Schindler’s List this morning. Seen it many times, but it’s been years since I’ve seen it, and today it moved me more than ever.
Oskar Schindler was a businessman who saved more than 1200 Jews in 1944, bribing Nazi officials into letting him keep his Jewish laborers for his munitions factory. These Jews survived the end of the war because of his courageous actions and have produced more than 7000 descendants.
Oppression, silencing and the arrogance of power-holders will always be with us. It will continue to show itself in families, government, artistic circles, schools, universities, and even online communities.
Those of us who remain cautious bystanders, silently supporting the “tall poppies” are making the right choice in many cases.
But, when we dismiss or take for granted the courageous actions of others, we are making the wrong choice. We can never know the great harm that often comes to them.