Monthly Archives: April 2018

Rising from the Ashes

Our obligation is to give meaning to life and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life.

~Elie Wiesel~

Recently I had the privilege of listening to Eva Abrams tell her Holocaust story at the Criminal Justice Day in Batavia, NY sponsored by local community groups.  The theme of the day was surviving and thriving after trauma. I have read accounts of the Holocaust and seen movies presenting various aspects of the events involved. Yet they seem to be fading from the memory and awareness of the public these days. This has happened despite their central place among the events of the twentieth century. This was the first time I have heard a live first hand account from a survivor’s own lips.

Ninety ­two year old Eva made her way to her seat with the help of her walker.  She sat next to her daughter Bonnie who helped her with translating certain words into English. She was born in 1926 in Oradea, Romania and was sent to Auschwitz with her family when she was seventeen.

Eva shared her story of life in a ghetto, in Auschwitz and digging trenches as she struggled to stay alive after walking across Europe for forced labor digging trenches. All these years later, she is a vibrant articulate survivor who has risen from the ashes of her Holocaust experience and managed to reconstruct her life in a meaningful way.

I tried to imagine what it would be like to walk in her shoes. I have never come close to death especially under the gruesome conditions she endured. Would I have been able to find the physical and emotional strength to make it from one day to the next? If I did survive, how would I think of my experience in a way which might allow me to rebuild my life? I have heard it said that what does not kill you makes you stronger. I wonder what lies within a person to allow him or her to climb back from the brink of a horrible death and find a meaningful life.

I thought about this for several days after Eva’s presentation. How could anyone survive her ordeal? What could I learn from her life? How could her inspiration lead me to make more of a contribution to my fellow human beings? None of these questions has an easy answer. Yet it is not necessary to answer them to draw strength from her example.

I have had misfortunes and setbacks from time to time in my life although nothing which compares with Eva’s experience. Yet I have been able to learn a little about my own inner strength by learning from my challenges rather than letting them get the best of me. Eva had help at her most desperate moments and used that help to find new reserves of strength.

I have learned to appreciate those who have been there in my time of need. I also plan to help others in their time of need whenever I can. What lessons can you draw from the stories of those you encounter in your life?

My review of Johann Hari’s book, Chasing the Scream

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety–it is connection

~Johann Hari~

I discovered the existence of this book several days after a certain president announced his opinion that drug dealers should be executed. He would have felt a kinship with Harry Anslinger, the chief architect and champion of the war on drugs which took root in the 1930’s. His opinion was that illegal drugs were evil and so were people who sold and used them. Both sets of people and drugs themselves became his targets for eradication.

Hari writes extensively about Anslinger and the army he headed as well as about Billie Holliday the renowned jazz singer who died of a heroin overdose and Arnold Rothstein, an early drugpin. During the course of the book, Hari also gives thorough coverage to drug users, drug dealers, police, people who work with drug users, and researchers. He also documents research findings, and alternatives to a war on drugs.

Hari admits that it was difficult for him to let go of the traditional wisdom regarding the evils of drugs and of those who use them. He also struggled with the idea that drug eradication is the only effective way to approach the problem. I must admit that it was initially also difficult for me as a reader to imagine viewing drugs in any but the traditional manner.

The author documents the burdens to society imposed by the war on drugs making the problem for society much worse than it was when drugs were legal. He points out clearly how little we learned from alcohol prohibition. Crime increased significantly with the advent of prohibition and decreased with the end of prohibition. Yet we saw the best way to deal with the problem of illegal drugs as following the same path we took with alcohol. Although the subtitle of Hari’s book is “The first and last days of the war on drugs,” it does not appear to me that the last days are in clear sight.

Yet research and social experiments suggest that there are rational alternatives. Research with animals and later with people discovered that addiction is not primarily due to the nature of the substances ingested. A much greater contribution to addiction is lack of a sense of worth, lack of social connection and the feeling of not being useful to society. As Gabor Maté puts it, “The core of addiction doesn’t lie in what you swallow or inject–it’s the pain you feel in your head.” Hari also brings in the effects of institutional racism leading to greater drug use by people of color.

The author also details the success of programs in countries such as Switzerland and Portugal and efforts in the states of Colorado and Washington to bring about legalization of drugs in various ways. Such approaches often involve supervised use of drugs paired with counseling to help users improve their sense of self, start to feel human again and find a way to contribute to society.

The book is presented in a narrative manner leaving you with a sense of knowing the individuals on all sides of this problem. It might be difficult for you to change your thinking about drugs, drug use and users after the extremely long tradition of seeing this as a problem to be eradicated. Approaching it this way has led to a drain on society socially as well as economically. I would suggest you give this book a try. You can always go back to your old way of thinking if you choose but if you have any humanitarian leanings, I have a feeling you will learn to think differently about this problem.

America: Corporation or Society

Integrity is essential and irreplaceable. It is the most valuable asset
for a person, a company, or a society seeking to build and progress.

~Rex Tillerson~

For several centuries America has worked to become a society in the sense of being a community with common laws and customs. We have made progress toward this ideal over the years although we have always had more to do to “form a more perfect union.” This was our goal stated in the preamble to our constitution. Our country has always had more to offer to people of wealth and power than to those less fortunate. We have had times of progress toward meeting the needs of all or citizens and times when the needs and wishes of the few outweighed the needs of the many.

We find ourselves in a time when many of the safeguards to our well­being are being dismantled piece by piece on a daily basis. Those in power act in the interest of themselves and of their powerful allies. Protection of the environment, providing for our health, provision of the basic necessities including clean air and water are now being undermined or discarded outright. Years of work to develop positive relationships with other nations is being undermined or simply cast aside. The idea of cooperation with other countries is being discarded in the interest of America first. Efforts are underway to cleanse America from immigrants whose presence and contributions made us so successful in the first place.

The Corporation Project of the Frank Bold law firm describes the purpose of a corporation first stated in the 1970’s as being to maximize shareholder value. All other goals were seen as secondary to the extent that they were considered at all. I don’t mean to suggest that all corporations are so callous. There are quite a few which have served to enrich society as well as their financial holdings. Yet the corporate culture has focused largely on short term gains with all other considerations becoming secondary at best.

In my opinion, those leading our country at present show a clear corporate mentality about our country in the sense of putting money first. The welfare of our country, our planet, our environment and our global community have all been relegated to secondary consideration with financial gain as the chief focus. In the process, wealth, resources and power become concentrated in fewer hands as the process of corporatizing America continues.

History has shown repeatedly that a course of events such as the one we find propelling us now eventually leads to revolution and overthrow of the few left at the top. Those who are there now are betting that their course will be sustainable in the near future which is their chief frame of reference rather than the greater good of all the world’s citizens which requires a much broader outlook.

Those in power will be happy to continue on their merry way as long as they are allowed to do so. We are currently seeing rumblings of a groundswell of dissent questioning the status quo which I see as unsustainable. The options are evolution of thought and mutual cooperation toward a national and global society or revolution when dissent reaches the tipping point. The choice is ours. What do you choose?