Its been a little while friends. I have been busy making good use of my health and the weather: to go walking in the countryside, to cycle along the Thames… To read books that touch the heart, and some that require study rather than mere reading.
One of the books that I have read, and read again is If This Is A Man by Primo Levi. Take a moment to click on the Primo Levi link: learn a little about Primo Levi – one of the handful of Italian Jews (from tens of thousands) who made it out of Auschwitz alive. Ready?
Primo Levi makes it clear that their German captors were ruthless/disciplined/systematic in their drive/practices to reduce their captors from men (human beings) to mere animals/beasts. Those who stood up to this ultimate in human degradation were killed – publicly and violently. Now lets listen to Primo (bolding is my work):
“In this world shaken every day more deeply by the omens of its nearing end, amidst new terrors and hopes, with intervals of exasperated slavery, I happened to meet Lorenzo….
In concrete terms it amounts to little: an Italian civilian worker bought me a piece of bread and the remainder of his ration every day for six months; he gave me a vest of his, full of patches; he wrote a postcard on my behalf to Italy and brought me the reply. For all this he neither asked nor accepted any reward, because he was good and simple and did not think that one did good for reward.
This should not sound little…”
Why shouldn’t this sound little? Because of the context in which it occurred. What is noteworthy of this context? The Jews were deliberately given filthy rags to wear – not fit for the cold/hostile environment in which they were made to work outdoor, and starved – given something like a litre of soup a day such that they soon became mere skin and bones. Those who did not wish to turn out this way had to ‘hustle’ to make bargains, to barter something of worth. It was not the kind of context which called forth goodness. The reverse: each for himself.
Let’s listen to Primo again:
“However little sense there may be in trying to specify why I, rather than thousands of others, managed to survive the test, I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today;”
Let’s stop here. Ask yourself what is it that Primo is pointing at when he talks of “due to Lorenzo that I am alive today”? Is Primo talking about the bread – given that Primo was starving (a kind of starving you and I do not know)? Is Primo talking about the vest – given that Primo like others wore only flimsy rags? Or perhaps Primo is talking about the postcard to his family?
Lets find out by listening to Primo:
“I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me by his presence, by his natural and plain manner of being good, that there still existed a just world outside of our own, something and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage, extraneous to hatred and terror; something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good, but for which it was worth surviving.
The personages in these pages are not men. Their humanity is buried, or they themselves buried it, under an offence received or inflicted on someone else….
But Lorenzo was a man; his humanity was pure and uncontaminated, he was outside this world of negation. Thanks to Lorenzo, I managed not to forget that I myself was a man.”
Just sit with this, I mean really sit with this. What is the profound truth that Primo is pointing at?
- Man’s deepest need may be for the Lorenzo’s of this world – those who embody in the very being / showing up the goodness/nobility of man.
- One person can/does make a difference! How you show up matters! How I show up matters!
- Man is the being whose need for nourishment extends way beyond the material necessities;
- Each of us embodies a certain vision of what it is to be human – to be a man / woman, and this necessarily impacts those with whom we interact and co-creates the kind of work that we end up living in;
- Man to be and thrive as a man necessarily needs to be regularly nourished on a noble vision of what it is to be man.
To get this is to get the awesome opportunity and responsibility that necessarily resides with each of us. The question is are you, am I, willing to show up and travel like Lorenzo? Or will we continue to play small in the myriad of ways that are open and attractive?
It is my hope that you, and I, choose right now to show up and travel like Lorenzo. I say the ultimate in playing BIG is to provide hope and inspire playing BIG in our fellow human beings. How? By being a humble/gracious exemplar of playing BIG.
I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. Until the next time…