Listen to Other’s Stories
Have we reached an age of absolute selfishness? What happened to our compassionate nature we use to have for one another?
Various outcomes of what our current political attributes consist of have been circulating for some time now and it has led many people to live in fear, distrust and mostly hate.
Passive aggressive politicians planting the seeds of turmoil have collectively gathered numerous groups of citizens who refuse to open their hearts to those who are different from them and with different values. Instead of mourning and assisting to heal the victims of those recent school shootings, people of opposing constitutional views are protesting the minute after, at the scene of the horrendous acts, to impose their agenda.
Another school massacre in Santa Fe, Texas has left 10 more people dead—8 students, and 2 teachers. Due to the previous school shooting survivors’ strength to enact change and successfully set up an entire movement to change gun access laws, those opposing that notion have become more prudent than ever in making sure their second amendment isn’t taken away.
Again, where is the compassion for those people who were affected greatly by the loss of so many young lives? Where are the heartfelt aids that reach out to those parents who must now bury their own children because a policy means more than the lives of their loved ones? Why has it become more important for you to savor your automatic weapons than to keep kids safe in schools and in anywhere else basically? Have we lost our humanity?
Recently, upon my usual morning ritual of going to the gym, I made a friend in an elderly woman, Helga, well into her mid-80s who likes to utilize the treadmill to stay active. When I first encountered Helga, I detected a slight accent in her speech and I curiously took it upon myself to ask her where she is originally from. Helga smiled in a pleased manner (almost as if she was a bit impressed I had picked up her faint pronunciation) and divulged that she had derived from Poland.
At first Helga was hesitant in speaking any further to me about her roots and seemingly secretive childhood in Poland. But with us at times, both watching the new stations plainly visible as we “tread the mill,” we’ve developed a knack for the political topics, school shootings being one of them.
We’ve discussed the tragedies and often agreed with each other’s opinions. Quickly, Helga learned she could trust me and she began to disclose stories from her childhood.
Helga was born in 1932 in Warsaw, Poland, to a family of Jewish descendent. Unfortunately, she was born in a time where her Jewish heritage wasn’t praised and from what few memories she has from her youth, they were quite vivid and sorrow-filled.
When Helga was just 5 years old, her family was forcibly moved to the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland where they were stripped of all their belongings, livelihood, and pride. Because of how young Helga was, she didn’t know much else other than the constant fear of her and her family being separated, as well as the deepening fear of both the Nazi’s and other Jewish families entrapped within the ghetto’s walls, that they too would meet a tragic demise.
People had turned on one another, including neighbors who would falsely accuse their peers of illicit acts as a bribe to get something small in return, or the soldiers who stood guard and ended up stoning a helpless man to death for fear he’d expose them as a Jewish sympathizer.
People had allowed dictatorship, fear, and hatred to take control, and had abandoned their compassion for human life. After the war was over and Helga and her family managed not to be sent to a concentration camp and regaining their freedom, her father moved them to America; Helga was around 10 years old.
But what resonated with me the most about her story is when she said to me, “What we are going through right now, here in the States, feels very similar and very familiar to what I lived through in Poland.”
What she meant was in the United States there is a mass circulation of fear and a riddance of compassion and love, much like how the Holocaust started. Helga exclaimed to me that when she sees numerous tragic deaths of children on the television and pro-gun activist protesting outside the schools after a massacre just occurred, she is mournfully reminded of those fearful Nazi’s and Holocaust victims who wouldn’t hesitate to selfishly hurt someone else to save themselves and protect their values.
Helga’s father purposely moved the family to America, because in his eyes this country represented freedom and most of all, open love for anyone and everyone; this country embraced differences. Helga, like her father, believed moving to America would give them a fresh start, away from oppression and segregation, but she quickly realized the country had its own race issues as well.
Despite America’s faults, Helga and her family stayed hopeful that things would change for the better, and with her witnessing extraordinary women and men, like Dorothy Height and Martin Luther King, strongly implementing change, she saw a better and brighter future. Eventually, things were getting better. When Barrack Obama became President and minorities had made great strides, she finally felt in her heart humanity has become restored, and this country was rich with compassion.
However, with the past election and the great progress unraveling, she worries that history will repeat itself.
I asked her what I or anyone else could possibly do to change and prevent that from happening all over again? Helga’s response, “Be kind. Give love. be compassionate, and help when you can, because even the tiniest act of kindness can change people a great deal.”
Try opening your heart to mutual respect before you call the police on two innocent African American men sitting down waiting on a colleague at Starbucks thinking they are a threat because of the color of their skin. Attempt to be understanding of a person’s financial situation before judging them on using government assistance to pay for food to feed their family. Respect a woman’s right to refuse unwanted sexual advancements before you shoot up an entire school and take away her life because rejection hurts too much. If those acts of kindness are too hard for you, start small and try to hold the door for someone, help the elderly man carry his groceries to his car or ask that co-worker why they are upset and genuinely hear them out without selfishly trying to gain something in return.
The only power fear has over us is to take away our humanity, but love, kindness and compassion—they have numerous powers, and those attributes can move mountains.