Hi Book Club fans! Are we ready to rummmmmmmmmmmmmble?
Sorry that there was no book club meeting in September. Sometimes these things happen. I can only hope that you did not use that as an excuse not to read. Because there’s no such thing as an excuse not to read.
This month, we are reading Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Rank and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times (don’t worry, this will be the only time I use the entire title). It was written as a response to Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” idea, that people will always go along with what they are told and what the group is doing. The author, Eyal Press, takes four case studies of people who took a stand and went against their marching orders: a Swiss official acting against Nazi Germany, a Serb risking his life for Croatians, an Israeli soldier standing up for Palestinians, and a woman whistleblower in the financial industry.
The most surprising aspect of this book is the absolute, complete resistance, and the uphill battle that the people in all four case studies faced. Each dealt with loss of their jobs, hostility from family and countrymen, and often physical threats. There is often a glorified image held up in America of the whistleblower, and we all like to think that if we were put in similar situations we would do the same thing. But when seeing how much the people in Beautiful Souls lost, you see the true costs of going against the grain. In fact, the title even comes from a slanderous term in Hebrew. “Beautiful souls” sounds nice, but is actually an insult in Hebrew, meaning someone who is weak and soft.
In reading this book, I found myself evaluating the little incidents in my life, and where I have gone against common thought. Even if it is not as big as undermining Nazi rule, there are instances in all of our lives where we can live with integrity instead of choosing to ignore the banality of evil around us. And the latter seems to be what most people do. To highlight the uniqueness of the four main case studies in the book, Press includes several psychological studies that underline the fact that in most instances in life, people choose to turn a blind eye as opposed to speaking out. It is easier to blend in than stand out, and this book illustrates that more than anything.
However, while all signs point to playing deaf and dumb in most situations, I think ultimately all of us want to be the ones that stand up and make a difference, even if it may mean sacrificing all for a principle. A life unexamined is not worth living, they say, but I would also say that a life lived only for self is even worse. “Beautiful souls” may be an insult in Hebrew, but there’s also the counter to that, a mentsh. Someone who lives his/her life for the betterment of others. And that is something we can all aspire to. I just hope we all have what it takes when push comes to shove.
Did you read the book? What are you thoughts?
Next month, we’re reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Who knows, maybe we’ll go see the movie together as well!