becoming a self in history, becoming a self in my street

Tomie Ando

Tomie described being involved in a situation where she felt responsible to be a bridge-builder between two different groups. She was unable to help and the situation collapsed. Her failure to bring about harmony was a cause of deep pain and grief to her. She felt that despite the best will in the world she had been completely ineffective. For many years after these events she was depressed and lost her confidence, which meant she could no longer trust herself to speak in difficult situations. A few years ago she attended a lecture held on Holocaust Memorial Day. The lecture had as its starting point the premise that such events as the Holocaust are possible through the behaviour of ordinary people, just like those who were sitting in that audience. The speaker explored, among other things, the human problem of having a point of view and making it visible. Using art, literature and biography she described the processes and choices which enable people to behave with integrity ó or not. Towards the end of the lecture she told the life story of Franz Stangl. He was a man who began life as a weaver in Austria. Through tiny self deceptions and through silence he found himself made commandant of Treblinka. The fact that these tiny moments are all within an ordinary personís grasp are what gives his story such power to command our attention; the fact that they led him to such a dark place adds to its potency.

This biography had a profound effect on Tomieís state of paralysed silence. She realised through hearing Stanglís story that her silence had as much potential to harm as she feared her speaking had in the past. Since that time she has been on a slow and painful journey. What she is working with now is learning how to re-engage with social processes and to find appropriate silence, and also to have the courage to speak. She has discovered that there is no set answer and that sometimes things do go wrong, but that it is always possible to learn from her mistakes and try again, rather than being paralysed by a fear of making things worse.