When I first met Sam Harris, one of the very first things that impressed me was his infectious smile. The more he talked about his early childhood before the war, the more I could tell that he loved and cherished those precious moments with friends and family. Then on September 1, 1939, the Germans invaded his hometown of Deblin, Poland and everything changed. Sammy was only four years old when that happened.
To truly understand what he and all the Holocaust survivors went through for the next 5-1/2 years, you would have had to walk in their shoes. What Ellen Palestrant and I tried to capture in filming Sammy The Journey was how he not only survived hiding in two concentration camps, but how he went on to engage in a life filled with hope, love and most surprisingly, an absence of hate. That anyone could endure all the pain he went through during those years and not carry “hate baggage” with them caused me to reevaluate my own philosophy of good and evil, hatred and love.
All of us have heard the expression, “It takes more muscles and energy to frown than it does to smile.” I would like you to stop everything right now and do this for me. Stand in front of a mirror and frown. Now smile! What felt better? Several months ago, I was watching Oprah on a Sunday morning. One of her guests was Marie Forleo of MarieForle.com. Marie was talking about how every morning when she gets up, she meditates on being in the moment. What does that mean? Her example was to imagine being stuck in traffic. You’re late for work, everyone is honking their horns and cutting in an out of traffic. Your normal propensity is to get angry and very impatient. But what if you could just “be in the moment” and instead of being angry and frustrated, you took that “moment” to be grateful to be alive in this beautiful world. Think positive spiritual thoughts. Now how do you feel? You’re in the same space you were just moments ago, but now you’re more relaxed with a much better attitude about the situation. What we need to understand is that we control our situations in life. We choose how we want to feel and act. Great philosophy, but in reality, how can we do it?
Years ago, a very good friend of mine told me this story that changed my entire perspective on hate and forgiveness. Picture this scene in your mind. You’re in NYC. It’s Christmas Eve and it’s 9:00 p.m. It’s snowing and it’s very cold. As usual, you’ve put off your Christmas shopping until the very last moment. You come out of the door of Macy’s with your arms loaded to the till with all your gifts as the guard locks the door behind you. Without a moments notice, someone attacks you, knocks you to the pavement, all your gifts go flying and you hear the glass breaking on the expensive gifts, and now that person is cursing and hitting you. How do you feel? Anger? Hatred? These might be considered to be a normal response to this kind of situation. Now let’s expand the view of this picture. It turns out that the person you ran into was blind and homeless. All of a sudden, that hatred and anger on your part turns immediately to love and compassion. But it’s the same picture, only this time, you get to see both sides of the tragedy.
I believe that learning not to hate is a learned process. It’s something that we don’t just acquire naturally. It’s more like a habit. I believe that this is what Sam Harris did with his life. He chose good over evil, love over hate, and thus his life after such a tragedy became a force for good. Each of us also can make those same choices in our lives, but again like Marie Forleo said, we have to choose to “be in the moment.” Look again into the mirror of life and choose to smile. It feels so much better doesn’t it?
– Eric Cosh