I'm an optimist
Life is beautiful because people survived the holocaust
By A. Shahmolki
January 8, 2002
I have a great deal of faith in humanity. No, I am not one of those happy
people who always sees the glass as half full. In fact quite frequently
I am certain it is half empty. The difference is, that is precisely why
I have confidence in the human spirit; that it will go on in spite of the
I finally figured this out because a professor of mine told me so. Some
time ago, in a class called international law and ethics I had to do a presentation.
I really looked up to the professor and I hoped I would impress him with
the depth and breadth of my learning.
So this was one of those rare instances in my academic career when I
had put a great deal of time and effort into my project. I had read tens
of books and articles and had devised what I was certain was a mind-bogglingly
On the day of the presentation I spent about one hour talking. I also
successfully weathered the questions and challenges of my classmates. Then
I looked at the professor. This was the moment that a great deal of my self
esteem hinged on.
He looked up from his notes, turned his face left in my direction. I
was looking past his thick glasses, straight at his eyes, trying to get
an instantaneous read before he opened his mouth. Nothing. The glasses were
What he did eventually say was far more significant to me than I had
expected. He said it without a hint of sarcasm or condescension.
"You have a great deal of faith in humanity don't you."
No, I thought; I am a cynic, maybe a pragmatist. Then I did a quick review
of my paper in my head...
You know how people talk about insight and self knowledge; that moment
when you simultaneously know and feel a truth about yourself. Well, this
was as close as I am ever likely to come to experiencing that kind of thing.
"Yes!" I said "I do!"
And from that moment on I knew the cynicism, the sarcasm, the doom and
gloom were simply my own special way of expressing my faith in fellow human
Life is Beautiful is the title of a movie. It was not a happy
movie though. The beauty of life is not revealed when all is well but when
we are confronted with adversity. Life is beautiful because people survived
the holocaust and went on to live, have jobs, marry, have children, be happy,
be sad, be human.
Life is beautiful because we can be certain at least some of us will
most certainly outlast any evil that is thrown our way.
It is also about the man in front of the tank. We all remember the
image. The man who would not let the tank get past him during protests at
Tiananmen Square in Beijing. He knew why the tanks were on the move. He
decided to simply stand in front of them. He did not shoot. He did not strap
explosives to himself and explode himself underneath the tank. He simply
stood in front of it. A man -- only a man -- armed solely with his dignity,
as the only obstacle to evil.
When I think of that man I remember the torture survivors I have talked
to, the soldiers I have read about, the news we hear about women and children
who are repeatedly subjected to degrading and inhuman treatment, the men
and women who have lost loved ones at the hands of savage murderers.
And I know their story did not and does not end there. Most survive.
Many go on to have productive lives. A few will act to relieve the suffering
of others and demand a better life for themselves and their fellow human
It is a new year. Here's hoping it will be a good year. But if things
do get rough, the only faith I need, is the knowledge that somewhere, sometime,
someone, a man, a woman, or a child braver than me, will stand in front
of that tank.