Elie Wiesel on the Antidote to Our Paralysis within the Face of World-Overwhelm – The Marginalian

How to Be with Each Other’s Suffering: Elie Wiesel on the Antidote to Our Paralysis in the Face of World-Overwhelm

There’s a phenomenon in forests referred to as inosculation — the fusing collectively of separate timber right into a single organism after their branches or roots have been entwined for a very long time. Typically, one of many former people could also be minimize or damaged on the base, nevertheless it stays absolutely alive by its sinewy fusion with the previous different. That is not symbiosis between two distinct organisms however a hybrid new organism absolutely sharing within the assets of life.

Every thing alive has the potential for inosculation in a single kind or one other. That, maybe, is what the nice naturalist John Muir meant when he noticed that after we strive to pick something by itself, we discover it hitched to all the things else within the universe.” To be correct residents of that universe is to acknowledge ourselves as particles of it, indelibly linked to each different particle — particles every minuscule however majestic with risk; it’s to acknowledge that, as Dr. King noticed, “we’re caught in an inescapable community of mutuality.”

Few have captured the accountability and energy of that mutuality extra passionately, nor lived them extra absolutely, than Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel (September 30, 1928–July 2, 2016).

Elie Wiesel

In Conversations with Elie Wiesel (public library), the Biblical query Cain poses to God after killing Abel — “Am I my brother’s keeper?” — turns into a lens on what makes for brotherhood within the broadest humanistic sense. Wiesel displays:

We’re all our brothers’ keepers… Both we see in one another brothers, or we reside in a world of strangers… There are not any strangers in a world that turns into smaller and smaller. In the present day I do know immediately when one thing occurs, no matter occurs, wherever on the planet. So there isn’t a excuse for us to not be concerned in these issues. A century in the past, by the point the information of a struggle reached one other place, the struggle was over. Now individuals die and the images of their dying are provided to you and to me whereas we’re having dinner. Since I do know, how can I not rework that information into accountability? So the important thing phrase is “accountability.” Meaning I have to maintain my brother.

At any time when we quiet the voices of so-called civilization — the voices of selfing and hard-edged individualism — that sense of the interconnectedness of life and of lives turns into audible. And but we’re habitually deafened to it by a sort of desensitization — the type the poet Could Sarton so poignantly captured as she contemplated the way to reside with tenderness in a harsh world. A lot of it, Wiesel observes, is a type of paralysis that comes from the sheer mismatch between the dimensions of the issues the world hurls at us and our particular person locus of company — a specific pathology of the data age, additional exploited by the information media and their crisis-mongering. Wiesel considers the consequence:

We’re careless. In some way life has been cheapened in our personal eyes. The sanctity of life, the sacred dimension of each minute of human existence, is gone. The primary downside is that there are such a lot of conditions that demand our consideration. There are such a lot of tragedies that want our involvement. The place do you start?

With a watch to a central downside of our time — the way to reside with knowledge within the age of data — he provides:

We all know an excessive amount of. No, let me appropriate myself. We’re knowledgeable about too many issues. Whether or not info is reworked into information is a distinct story, a distinct query.

He traces the emotional attrition that occurs after we are bombarded with information of crises and traumatic occasions — at first deeply moved and invested in allaying the struggling we see, we develop exhausted by trauma-sighting and help-canvassing, simply as information of the newest calamity or injustice is piling atop the earlier one:

You couldn’t take it. There’s a want to recollect, and it could final solely a day or per week at a time. We can not keep in mind on a regular basis. That may be not possible; we might be numb. If I have been to recollect on a regular basis, I wouldn’t have the ability to perform. An individual who’s delicate, at all times responding, at all times listening, at all times able to obtain another person’s ache… how can one reside?

Artwork by Kay Nielsen from East of the Solar and West of the Moon, 1914. (Obtainable as a print and as stationery playing cards.)

The antidote to this paralysis, Wiesel argues, is small motion — a testomony to Hannah Arendt’s conviction that “the smallest act in essentially the most restricted circumstances bears the seed of… boundlessness, as a result of one deed, and typically one phrase, suffices to vary each constellation.” A century and a half after Van Gogh insisted that “nevertheless meaningless and useless, nevertheless lifeless life seems, the person of religion, of vitality, of heat… steps in and does one thing,” Wiesel insists on selecting from among the many innumerable causes soliciting your consideration and support only one through which to get entangled — an act seemingly small that, on the cumulative scale of humanity, strikes the world.

The best problem going through us all, nevertheless, is the way to be with one another’s struggling. In consonance with the nice Zen instructor Thich Nhat Hanh’s perception that “whenever you love somebody, the very best factor you may supply that particular person is your presence,” Wiesel considers the wellspring of common love and brotherhood:

I imagine in dialogue. I imagine if individuals speak, they usually speak sincerely, with the identical respect that one owes to a detailed good friend or to God, one thing will come out of that, one thing good. I might name it presence. I would love my college students to be presence each time individuals want a human presence. I urge little or no upon my college students, however that’s one factor I do. To individuals I really like, I want I might say, “I’ll undergo in your house.” However I can not. No one can. No one ought to. I may be current, although. And whenever you undergo, you want a presence.


If there’s a governing principle in my life, it’s that: If someone wants me, I should be there.

Brother’s keeper — inosculation at work. ({Photograph}: @lily_kdwong.)

Couple this fragment of the wholly vitalizing Conversations with Elie Wiesel with Wiesel’s stirring Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, then revisit Nick Cave on the antidote to our existential helplessness and the pioneering X-ray crystallographer and peace activist Kathleen Lonsdale on ethical braveness and our private energy.

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