Very recently I was navigating the complexities, hierarchical rules and demands of a massive hospital, when a wonderful black nurse of some rank saw my problem and offered to take me under her wing and help unravel my problems.
While this was underway we had to wait for a few minutes and sat in a waiting area. She asked me when and how I had ‘learned’ the art and importance of bucking authority.
My answer, which simply popped out without much thought, was that when I was 7/8 years old and saw pictures in the late 1930s of long lines of men, women and their children waiting in lines for trains that they knew were to take them someplace awful because of their only crime of being Jewish. I realized then that they were peacefully submitting to their deaths and that they could/should have sought to overwhelm the few armed guards who held them captive. But they did nothing. And 5,000,000 Jews were gassed and burned by Hitler.
I said to myself then that if ever I was in such a situation I would rather die rebelling than passively submit to death. In the years since, that thought process has morphed into my generally rebellious attitude towards misplaced and arbitrary authoritarian power from many institutions that dominate our lives.
My new nurse ‘friend’ then said something that startled and pleased me. She said that she shared my attitude because she saw my frustration and she was empathic.
Then she added that her equivalent of my lines of Jews were pictures she saw, when she was a young girl, of fields with dozens of black slaves/workers being driven to pick cotton by 4/5 white men on horseback with shot guns. She said me that she then promised herself that she would never allow herself to accept such a situation. That was why she went out of her way to help me!
I realized then that the sharing of different—but underneath identical—experiences is the core to human understanding and communication.
This is a manifestation of a real possibility of extraction of many more such common experiences that could lead to a more harmonious world around ourselves.