Communication

“… it probably sounds very pretentious when I say the I feel impelled to explain my inner processes to all mankind. Not to some individual in a private conversation but to all mankind, yes, to all of them… It is nonsense of course, sitting at my desk and making a fool of myself because I can’t find the right words, but sometimes I feel as if everything I experience deep down is not just for me, that I have no right to keep it to myself, that I must account for it… As if in this tiny slice of human history I were one of the many receiving sets which have to retransmit messages.”

(Etty: The Letters and Diaries of Etty Hillesom 1941 – 1943, Smelik, K.A.D ed, Eerdmans, Cambridge 2002, p. 393)

Reading Etty this morning this suddenly struck me. Whence this impulse to communicate?  No human experience is without interest. We really are all parts of a greater whole and whatever affects another affects me. Often I think many of us spend our lives avoiding experience. Wary of the highs, fearful of the lows, we settle for an anodyne equanimity. Or, we allow ourselves to drift with the prevailing generality, passively accepting whatever comes our way. Or, we become trapped in an addiction, drink, drugs, sex, or some all-consuming and determining compulsion. For many introspection is difficult. It forces them to look at their experience, which raises questions, awkward, perhaps, and difficult questions one is not always willing to face.

This is why the diaries of someone like Etty Hillesum are so valuable. Like most of us she has her compulsions. Unlike most of us she is not afraid to look at them, however unpleasant or embarrassing, and describe them as objectively as possible. Her gaze is unflinchingly honest and direct. She allows it to lead her in a direction totally at variance with her upbringing and previous inclinations because that seems the right thing to do. To her astonishment one day she, an agnostic, nominal Jew, finds herself kneeling to pray

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