by Bryan Meniado
In the previous WFSR, I shared about To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee which is a well-loved international classic. Since it’s a masterpiece told from a child’s perspective, reading it reminded me of how much we can learn from our children, even with their seeming youthfulness and innocence. This in turn led me to another classic coming-of-age story—not a novel but a diary written by a Jewish girl during World War II.
The Diary of a Young Girl is a book based on the Dutch-language diary kept by Anne Frank, who was a teenage German-Dutch diarist of Jewish heritage. It tells the story of her family who had to go into hiding as a result of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi persecution of Jews during the occupation of the Netherlands. It collates her writings from 1942 to 1944 and was first published in 1947, two years after her death in a concentration camp. It was published through her father Otto Frank, who was the sole member of the family to survive the Holocaust.
Despite her tragic demise, Anne Frank has become a source of hope and inspiration to many amidst difficult circumstances. With her sharp humor and intellect, her diary became a classic of war literature and one of the best-selling books of all time. So for this month, I would like to share some lessons that I learned from Anne Frank’s diary. Here is why Filipinos should read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.
Learning from our children
In our culture, we often hear or say “respect the elder” more than “respect the child” because we highlight seniority and value the wisdom of those who have been here longer than us. Although it’s implied that we should also respect our children in the same manner that we should respect everyone else, we tend to see a child as someone who needs our protection and guidance—which they also need, by the way—but not as someone we can learn from.
In connection, our languages also reflect this cultural aspect as shown by our Tagalog expressions “marami ka pang kakaining bigas” and “papunta ka pa lang, pabalik na kami,” to name a few. We sometimes downplay our children’s perspectives and experiences by saying “bata ka pa kasi,” “musmos ka pa,” or “ganyan din ako noong bata pa ako” with a certain sense of ascendancy. These assertions may relegate their thoughts, experiences, and opinions as only secondary to that of the grown-ups.
However, I do not intend to pit children and adults against each other as older people’s knowledge, wisdom, and experiences are certainly valuable to the younger generation. But while respecting the elder is in itself virtuous, it sometimes undermines the full merit of being a child because we can actually learn a lot from children too.
That’s what I’ve appreciated more after reading Anne Frank’s diary and I think that’s what Otto Frank had also realized when he first read his daughter’s writings. He never knew that, despite Anne’s young age, she was more inquisitive, eloquent, and insightful than he thought of her to be. She had ideation and introspection that many of us won’t expect from a child. It reminds me that we can complement and learn from one another regardless of age without invalidating or underestimating our respective experiences.
Some values are not debatable
Since the historical backdrop of Anne Frank’s diary is World War II in Europe, it’s inevitable not to reflect upon the atrocities and injustices that had transpired during that time. Reading stories about the deadliest war in history, as well as the rise of the megalomaniac and genocidal dictator Adolf Hitler, has made me reexamine our principles and values as human beings. Although it’s not an easy pill to swallow, it’s a necessary exercise for us to be reminded of what we are capable of doing to our fellow human beings.
Anne Frank’s life in the secret annex and her eventual demise in a concentration camp represent the horrible circumstances Jews had been subjected to during the war. We may be considering ourselves fortunate today that we didn’t have to suffer and live through that kind of persecution, but we should not let our guards down. We should not be too complacent because the world we’re living in at present is far from ideal. We can’t say for sure if our species have truly learned the lessons of the past to not fall for Machiavellian leaders, who have utter disregard for human dignity and rights, as well as justice and accountability.
Hence, we should keep reminding ourselves of the fundamental values and principles we have as humans. I understand that many of us share the same sentiments and aspirations for our world, our country, and the future of our children, and that we only want what we think is the best for us. But we should not lose ourselves in the process because some values are not and should not be debatable. Always keep in mind that war crimes, deceit, plunder, corruption, murder, theft, and trampling on human dignity and rights are objectively wrong and will not be solved and absolved by a call for unity alone.
Reading and living history
As the popular quote by philosopher George Santayana says, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is also echoed by Filipino historian Ambeth Ocampo who says “history doesn’t repeat itself; people repeat history.” I think that should clear up the common mismash on who to blame when bad things happen. History shouldn’t be blamed for supposedly repeating itself because we are the ones at fault. We are still committing the same mistakes while expecting different results because we don’t learn from the lessons of the past.
In relation to that, the recent “Majoha” issue brought about by a televised history quiz bee in a popular reality show franchise has been making rounds online. It featured teen contestants who were asked grade school Philippine history trivia questions. One of the questions was about the three martyred Catholic priests during the Spanish colonial period collectively known as “Gomburza,” which is derived from their surnames Gomes, Burgos, and Zamora. The contestant mistakenly referred to them as “Majoha.” Regrettably, that’s not the only blunder they made because they also got many other questions wrong. (Related: “How Well Do You Know Your History? Netizens Revive Calls to Bring Back PH History Subject in High School”)
Although some may argue that social and historical awareness shouldn’t be measured by our ability to answer trivia questions, the “Majoha” incident encapsulates the state of our educational system, particularly when it comes to social studies. As an avid reader of history, it’s saddening that our indifference toward critical reading of history has taken its toll on our ability to know what’s factual or fictitious, which in turn makes us more vulnerable to fake news, disinformation, and historical distortion.
Majority is not always right
But beyond the historical trivia facts, I believe we can appreciate history more when we view it as what it really is: a narrative that we can relate to and can learn from. History should never just be about the forgettable figures, places, and names. Although these things are also important, it would be more meaningful to look at history as our conscious effort of remembering.
Picking up from Anne Frank’s experience, we can also take history as a cautionary tale to become more wary of cunning and scheming leaders, and to make sure that we will never see the atrocities and injustices of the past again. Hence, we must be careful not to easily fall prey to false and empty arguments based on the appeal, feelings, and prejudices of a large group of people, regardless whether they claim to be the majority. As philosopher Sam Harris puts it, “truth has nothing, in principle, to do with consensus: one person can be right, and everyone else can be wrong.”
On that note, I would also like to reverberate Booker T. Washington’s quote that says: “A lie doesn’t become truth, wrong doesn’t become right, and evil doesn’t become good, just because it’s accepted by a majority.” This should remind us not to always hide under the cloak of “respect my opinion” because we also have to make sure that our opinions are informed. Remember that we may be entitled to our opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts. Thus, we should choose and act based on evidence and truth.
Exercising our rights excellently
I’ve learned and realized a lot of things from reading Anne Frank’s diary, and now I understand why she became one of the most-read writers in the 20th century. It’s such a pity that she was not able to see her book in print. She would have loved seeing her works published as she had wanted to become a writer or a journalist when she was growing up. But despite the fact that her life was tragically cut short, her memory lives on through her diary and it has made lasting impressions to many.
In my case, Anne Frank’s writings made me realize how important it is to appreciate the little and big things that we sometimes take for granted such as our freedom, rights, and privileges. In this day and age, we enjoy a lot of comforts that the previous generations did not have during their time. We are so fortunate to have the access to information right at our fingertips, and that we have the right to choose our next leaders by democratic means.
And we partly owe these things to our predecessors who steadfastly fought against tyrannical and oppressive regimes. They paved the way for us to live the life that we are living now. However, our fight is far from over because we still have to hold the line to preserve and nurture our democratic institutions. Hence, we have to remain vigilant and true to the interest and ideals of our people. We have to choose and do what is right.
That’s why on May 9, I’m hopeful that Filipino voters will vote according to their conscience and choose the right kind of leader. Amidst our differing opinions, I hope we will not lose our values and choose rationally because, as Anne Frank famously wrote, in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart—and that at the end of the day, we all want the same thing and that is a better life for us and our children.
Anything to share? :)