Huffines Institute Director's Blog

Nazi horrors and carrying on

In doing research for this week’s Huffines Institute podcast with Sports Illustrated’s David Epstein (check out the podcast - it is on the hot stories for the coming Olympic Games), I ran across a story that David recently wrote about Ben Helfgott, a former British Olympic weightlifter (yes, it is tough when your research actually includes reading Sports Illustrated!).  David’s story is an incredibly moving story that is less about sports and more about the human spirit and the quality that makes – no, drives - people to carry on and contribute positively to society in spite of the horrific events they’ve experienced in their lives.  This story reminded me of my wife’s stepmother (Irma) who came of age in what we knew as East Germany in the 30’s and 40’s and the atrocities and persecution that marked her everyday life during her childhood.  Amazingly, Irma is one of the most enthusiastic and full-of-life people I know and it is always uplifting to be around her.

Irma is illustrative of the fact that as most of us get older and meet more people, we all find more and more people that in spite of their traumas and their daily ordeals, face each day with an uplifted spirit and a willingness not just to survive, but to thrive.  I can easily name 10 people in my life that are really ‘everyday heroes’ not just because they contribute so much to our society, but because of the difficulties they’ve overcome or continue to deal with on a daily basis.  Those are the people I admire, the ones that quietly show everyday courage and the folks that I’m so glad are in my life. 

The media often blasts us with stories of those that have heroic moments and I’m all for celebrating those folks.  But take a few minutes and think about the people that you know that show the quiet courage on a daily basis – those people that continue on in spite of what they’ve dealt with.  To often it seems like the default setting for people who have committed various misdeeds as adults is to blame their childhood (didn’t we have a recent trial where that was the primary defense?).  While not diminishing the horrors that people might have gone through, I think we need to especially aware of and celebrate those that show the special character to survive and thrive in spite of their past.  I have no idea why some people are resilient and some aren’t, but I do wonder how I would react if I had to deal with the challenges that so many of these people have had to deal with (e.g. Mr. Helfgott saw his mother and 9-year old sister shot and dumped into a ditch – can you imagine that?).  I only hope that I – and you - would react with the same quiet courage and resiliency that so many of those people continue to show.



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