08/08/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

"What Bernie Madoff, Victimization, and Elie Wiesel Have to Teach Us"

" those times, it was human to be inhuman. And now the world has learned, I hope.... There must come a moment -- a moment of bringing people together.

... Memory must bring people together rather than set them apart. Memories here not to sow anger in our hearts, but on the contrary, a sense of solidarity that all those who need us. What else can we do except invoke that memory so that people everywhere who say the 21st century is a century of new beginnings, filled with promise and infinite hope, and at times profound gratitude to all those who believe in our task, which is to improve the human condition.

... Camus wrote "...after the tragedy...there is more in the human being to celebrate than to denigrate." Even that can be found as truth ... in Buchenwald."

Elie Wiesel

Wiesel knows a few things about reconstructing a life, after experiencing the uncertain, devastating times of Auschwitz. Few of us can imagine such a horror.

And, yet, today, people face their own version of devastating circumstances in a myriad of forms. While there was dancing in Iraq's streets at the pulling out of our troops, there is also weeping for the untold numbers of killed and wounded, not to mention their families. Everywhere you look around the world, some rejoice while others suffer. While Honduras' president's kidnapped in his pajamas, other politicians celebrate. While Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson are laid to rest, friends and family remember times of beauty. We live lives of contrast. No wonder we question what it means to be here, on this earth, in this way.

Uncertain times can bring out the best or worst in people. Who amongst us cannot remember a time when we felt betrayed? Who amongst us cannot recall the desire for revenge? It's the most natural thing in the world to react when you feel cheated. Maybe a 'Bernie' character stole your money. Maybe the economy has hurt your career. Perhaps you feel betrayed by life force itself, leaving you to deal with serious illness which robs you of the promise of 'lots more time.' Just the other day, I came out of the gym and someone had side-swiped my car on the passenger side, leaving no contact information. It will cost around $1000 for repair. Where is justice when you believe you've been doing your best, yet bad things happen?

We do need time to stomp our feet, ring our hands, and fantasize what we might like to befall those behind the dastardly deeds. The trouble is that reactive 'getting even' carries a hefty price tag. Not only does it send toxins racing through our own bloodstream, it contaminates our relations. Think of someone you know who spends too much of their juice trying to 'even the score' for some perceived injustice, or does a perpetual whine and moan song of 'ain't it awful.' How do you like being around them? What happens to your own vitality? I don't know about you, but I want to run in the other direction from such a depleting atmosphere. Blessedly, our job is not to solve everyone else's problem. Not even if you are a 'shrink'!

Our alternative is to cultivate a practice of responding before doing further collateral damage. Perhaps we'd do well to remember that the roots for the word 'justice' relate to fairness and beauty. These days, the very idea of people living together harmoniously might seem far-fetched. Rumi warned: "...Don't move the way fear makes you move." When injustice and inhumanity seem so prevalent, where do we look for guidance? How may we become more humane, more generous to ourselves and one another?

We cannot do much better than to note the example set by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Elie Wiesel this week. Note the contrast. Bernie Madoff has his 'day in court' for sentencing. Meanwhile, some of the very people victimized by his inhumane greed, are taking it upon themselves to sue other Madoff investors able to bail out earlier. When fear shows up, victims too often become perpetrators. Poverty consciousness runs deeper than money.

Victims become perpetrators when fear takes over and mutes out Wisdom. The moment we begin impersonalizing one another, we deface and dehumanize them as well as ourselves. In stark comparison, Wiesel, whose funds were absconded by Madoff, proposed an entirely different means of atonement.

His suggestion is that Bernie Madoff's prison cell be papered with the photos of the people he's harmed. Elie Wiesel returns the focus to the only place healing can ever begin. He demonstrates that you don't get to be a Nobel Peace prize Laureate by seeking 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.' He illustrates the power of forgiveness, and the truth that you can forgive without forgetting. He suggests returning to relatedness, coming home to the fact that we do have choice, and these choices can create compassion, and healing, or destruction. Each new moment, a new choice is possible. We either grow our humanity, or we remain victims and perpetrators.

The words of Rumi come back as guide:

"Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,
There is a field.
I will meet you there."

A Little Exercise: If you were to 'paper' your room with the faces of people you'd like to thank, whose photos would be there? What message would you like to deliver? If you were to include those with whom its time to make amends, what would you communicate?

I'd love to hear from you: your responses, your questions, your feelings, your news, your links, and promise I'll get back to you as quickly as possible! Blessings your way. May you and your car be safe from hit-and-runs!