Monday, May 16, 2011

Peace Quote of the Day - what do we allow our suffering to justify in our treatment of others?

Victor Frankl, reflecting on how everyday life in the Nazi concentration camps impacted people, wrote the following:

"During this psychological phase one observed that people with natures of a more primitive kind could not escape the influences of brutality which had surrounded them in camp life. Now, being free, they thought they could use their freedom licentiously and ruthlessly. The only thing that had changed for them was that they were now the oppressors instead of the oppressed. They became instigators, not objects, of willful force and injustice. They justified their behavior by their own terrible experiences. This was often revealed in apparently insignificant events. A friend was walking across a field with me toward the camp when suddenly we came to a field of green crops. Automatically, I avoided it, but he drew his arm through mine and dragged me through it. I stammered something about not treading down the young crops. He became annoyed, gave me an angry look and shouted, 'You don’t say! And hasn’t enough been taken from us? My wife and child have been gassed — not to mention everything else — and you would forbid me to tread on a few stalks of oats!' Only slowly could these men be guided back to the commonplace truth that no one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them."
Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

This certainly seems relevant to the situation in Israel/Palestine today, both in evaluating the Israeli treatment of Palestinians (to what extent have Israelis internalized the brutality they experienced, and used it to justify treating the Palestinians they same way they were treated by the Nazis?), and as a warning to Palestinians (not to internalize the brutality they are experiencing, and let it change them into people who justify doing wrong to others). They are already caught in a deadly "eye for an eye" cycle of violence, a downward spiral of brutality which is destroying people on both sides.

Frankl's words also make me think of the New Testament saying, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21)

What will it take for the Israelis and Palestinians (or others in the world caught in a similar cycle) to break free?

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