Self-restraint or Selfish Strain?

by Mary Kliewer

I recently watched a video of an old production of "The Diary of Anne Frank". The story of this young Jewish girl in hiding during World War II in Amsterdam has touched the hearts of many. After seeing the movie I couldn't help asking myself the question, "I wonder how I would have behaved if I had to live in a situation like hers?"

Here were a group of people who found it necessary to live together in a tiny attic above Amsterdam, and the only thing they had in common was their Jewishness. They were all so different, with different backgrounds, different professions, different views on life. Yet they each knew that if they weren't willing to learn to live with each other, their fate would most certainly be death. It was their willingness and determination to learn to live together that helped them remain in hiding as long as they did. Often they found themselves in situations where their differences arose quite strongly, but it always came down to the point of their willingness to exercise self-restraint and not allow the strain of selfishness to continue that allowed them to live in peace.

What would happen today if you were suddenly faced with the only hope of surviving life was to be willing to live in close confinements with 7 to 8 other people who had nothing in common with you other than, say, they were also English or Irish? I'm sure all of us would like to think that, if we were to find ourselves in such a situation that something deep within us would allow us to rise to the circumstances and with a bit of luck we would survive okay -- that our fellow human beings would not find us too difficult to live with.

Maybe we don't need to hypothesize quite so much. Maybe we should ask ourselves, how am I getting along with my family now -- today? Or how am I getting along with my roommate or flatmate? Or if you're living alone, how are you getting along with those you work with? How much of self are you willing to restrain in order to get along with your fellow humans?

What is it that makes a happy home? I don't think any of us have to think very long of situations where we wished in hind-sight that we had exercised self-restraint. If only we hadn't snapped back at a comment made at the dinner table. Or if only we hadn't tried to impress someone with our quick wit that dominated the whole conversation. Or perhaps we think we restrained ourselves by not speaking, yet we sat at the table in a 'put out' mood, letting others know of our displeasure by our very silence.

At the heart of true self-restraint is a forgetfulness of oneself. And to know and experience a forgetfulness of self is to know and experience what it means to truly love. Some one has once said, "Neither natural love nor Divine love will remain unless it is cultivated. We must form the habit of love until it is the practice of our lives." Are we willing to cultivate such habits to enable us to experience the joy of living with each other? Are we willing to start with those we live with? The amazing fact is we are each given the choice. What will be your choice today?

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