January 27, 2017, Panama
Linear thinking makes life simple. Simply put this means that things progress step by step in a logical forward order and you can see how they are going. You earn your yellow belt, then your orange belt, you master one technique and then move on to another. First grade always proceeds second grade. But in life it is not this way, as the old saying goes, two steps forward one step backwards.
But there is more. Most of life's events do not follow a linear progression and until much time passes it is difficult to see how things actually came about. That is why we need historians.
If we take for example the Jews of Germany we see a community that consider itself as much German as Jewish. For us looking back this seems odd; clearly they were outsiders. But for those of us who live/lived in America can we imagine not being thought of as Americans? We are as American as apple pie! Can we imagine being judged years from now and being asked why we didn't see the writing on the wall and leave "when we still could"?
The Jews of Germany were Germans, in every sense of the word. As their world gradually changed when the Nazis came to power they made minor adjustments, as we all do. But they coped, as they always had. We cannot judge them from a distance fo 70 years, only from the times they were living in.
Today we know what happened. Today we know how neighbors turned a blind eye when the Jews were taken away, today we know that it could have happened in many other countries the same exact way. (Let us not imagine that the Germans were unique in this way, many many American and British were enthusiastic supporters of the Nazi regime).
And we judge; why didn't the Jews of Germany leave when they still could?
History is a funny thing, very few people actually study it. The fact is over 100,000 German Jews did leave. Sadly many left to neighboring countries and were later conquered and murdered anyway. Many others gradually reached the same conclusion and began preparations to leave. The goal of the community was to leave in its entirety but the plan was to take about thirty years. No one knew there was a deadline, a very short deadline with deadly consequences.
The problem is we look back, and judge, based on linear forward thinking, i.e. we in hindsight see a logical step by step progression. We use this paradigm because it makes it easy for us to follow and understand. We see Hitlers' rise to power, the elections, taking over the coalition, eliminating competition, taking over political life, enacting anti Jewish legislation and then eliminating Jews from the economic and social life, and finally life itself.
But the problem is life is not linear. The problem is that along this general line there were some ups and downs. At times it seemed to the hopeful Jews of Germany that things were actually getting better, or at least not getting worse.
How many of us leave a job, or a relationship at the first sign of trouble? How many of us run to the doctor after our first sneeze? So we cannot judge.
I recall feeling a sore throat. Eventually it turned out to be strep throat, which must be treated by antibiotics prescribed by a doctor. But life is not linear; I had some pain, drank some coffee and the pain was reduced. It came back, drank something sharp and the pain was reduced. Only later did someone suggest, insist, that I see a doctor. So next time around I was smarter. Next time around I did not wait so long to see a doctor.
Life is not linear. We feel some pain, we feel some concern, and then things get a little better and we ignore the warning signs. But the next time around we should be wiser.
The Jews of Germany had no precedent for such a tragedy. They went by the information they had at the time. But we must be smarter. When we see trouble coming we must understand that yes, it can get very bad.
And yet, we do not. At least most people do not. People whine and complain but few take action, few take responsibility for their own safety and well being.
Life is not linear, we cannot see the path ahead of us clearly, there will always be doubt and we will have to make difficult decisions. We can live life backwards but only forwards. But, we must see the warning signs, learn from the past and take action so that the past of others does not become our future. As such we would have only ourselves to blame.