Etty Hillesum – A Life Transformed

I’m currently working on a doctorate and this year’s subject matter is conflict and compassion.  The coursework and readings are not your typical “five steps of conflict management”.  The focus is more about self-awareness, emotional self-regulation, and being curious about the needs and wants within the conflict.

It takes some effort to do this type of deeper inner work.  I’m not smart enough (yet) to put all of this into a succinct, simple way.  My mind is still working through the abstract concepts, and my heart is wrestling with looking at my own anger, triggers, and ways that I might get upset.  

Conflict is unavoidable.  It will happen.  You might be having a personal or professional conflict now.  🙂 

Etty Hillesum is quickly becoming one of my heroes.  I wish I could say she was a holocaust SURVIVOR, but she wasn’t.  She was, however, a HERO to many survivors.  And if we’re to become people who learn how to process our conflicts well–especially in a world that feels emotionally regressive and divisive–we’ll need examples like Etty to show us how to grow into our full selves.

Etty is helping me to embrace the process of authentic selfhood that is deeply caring towards others and longs to live in the present moment.  

Etty has been teaching me that the flow of life is all of humanity as whole people flourishing.  To flourish is to live in deep care for others, to be creative, and to seek the common good.  This involves an inner transformation that helps us to befriend our selfhood, develop a deeper meaning in life, and the sense that a Higher Power is working on our behalf.  The process might involve confession of disordered wants, effort in the form of religious commitments (for me), and developing an inner awareness of what is.

 In a diary entry where she is struggling, she remarks that she is “finding wholeness, discovering and appreciating her self, able to value solitude and absorb the negative without going under…delighting in the present moment.

It was this inner work that helped Etty be an advocate for Holocaust victims and helped them cope with deep suffering.  

We have just gone through one of the worst periods that I can remember in my lifetime.  9-11 was horrific.  Hurricane Katrina was devastating.  But Covid19 seemed to pull the rug from underneath us and expose us to the fragility of life, to our sense of not being in control, and that we are human beings trying to make something of ourselves in life.  

I’m not done reading her book and I’m already sad that I’ll finish it shortly.  But she is teaching me how to process conflict and how to become more of the person I long to be:  caring, compassionate, creative, courageous.