Hungry for Truth, Hardwired for Empathy

Hungry for Truth, Hardwired for Empathy

What I Know

I write on subjects such as World War II and the Holocaust because these are things that I know something about. They made me who I am, through the experiences of my ancestors. I feel strongly the enduring significance of these subjects to me personally and to the world at large.

My grandparents, from the Beaver County Times, Alquippa Ambridge Home Edition (Pennsylvania), Saturday, April 6, 1963

My grandparents, from the Beaver County Times, Alquippa Ambridge Home Edition (Pennsylvania), Saturday, April 6, 1963

On my father’s side, some of my ancestors were Holocaust survivors. Others were killed in gas chambers or the killing fields of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. My grandfather, a rabbi, hid his identity and survived the selection at Auschwitz and then slave labor at Dachau. When the camp was liberated, he was blind and barely alive at 77 lbs. Because he survived, I exist. My grandmother’s first two children perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, along with their grandparents. Because my grandmother survived, I exist.

I realize that the preceding paragraph is a quick summary of countless moments of immeasurable suffering, unforgettable experiences of the extremes of human cruelty, lifetimes of harrowing memories. But this is how the telling of a story begins. This is how the words begin to form and story takes shape. Every story starts incomplete.

Because I write about what I know, I’m aware of the experience and implications of prejudice, persecution, oppression, and violence.

Therefore, I believe in anyone’s right—your right—to tell the truth of your experience, no matter your religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or sexuality. I am with anyone who tells the absolute truth.

As a writer and truth teller, I revel in first-hand, authentic accounts and stories that bring political movements, cultural conditions, and societal events into focus, that make the abstract concrete and ground them in human experience. This is my aim in writing the truly epic story of my great uncle Stefan’s survival across the forests of Eastern Europe. Because he survived, I am the person that I am today.

The Power of Stories

I believe in the power of stories. As a species, we find storytelling irresistible. The function of movies, TV shows, celebrity and political news coverage, magazines, blogs, cartoons, comic books, social media, articles, and books is to convey stories. We are hungry for them, and always have been. We tell them with our voices, in writing, in paint, in form, sound, and song. We want to know about the experiences of others, and we want to hear them through the unique style of each storyteller.

The personal appeals to us deeply in our instincts to connect and our potential to empathize. As we evolve as a species, we move closer to one another. “Mirror neurons” in our brain dedicated solely to empathy are being activated. Our bodies are literally changing as we move into a greater ability to experience life from each other’s perspectives.

Empathy Sustains Life

This is why I write and why real and true expressions are inspiring and sustaining to me. Empathy sustains life. It is the opposite of and antidote to prejudice, persecution, and oppression. And it’s the direction we’re moving in as a species. This is why we need art, in all its forms. Art is evolution.

Leaders rise and fall, but art and compassion always will be.

Tell your stories. Keep going. I will too.

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My Great Uncle Stefan
My Great Uncle Stefan