“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”
~ Anne Frank
Anne Frank died at the very young age of fifteen in the Auschwitz concentration camp, in 1945, after several months of incarceration with her family. Every year during my career as a History teacher – and often, several times during each year, I taught my students about the holocaust. I hated it! I longed to skip that unit of study because of the feelings of horror and disgust it aroused within me. But I knew that my feelings could never get in the way of instructing my students about the wages of discrimination and hate.
I have often sat, reading a quote from Anne Frank, and marvelled at the positive attitude that seemed to pervade her work. How could a Jewish teenager, in hiding with her family for two years from the Nazis occupying Amsterdam, express ideas like the one quoted here today? My first instinct when I came across this quote was to leave it and continue my hunt. But Anne Frank’s words continued to rattle around inside my head until I returned to the place where I had found them. Her words and her inspiration is of far greater significance than my aversion to the memories of that horrible period in twentieth century history.
When you look at the five sentences that comprise this passage, there isn’t any reference to a negative idea in any of them! Anne begins with the bold assertion that everyone has a piece of good news inside of him. On the one hand, that is very heartening, but on the other, was she including the Nazis in this sweeping statement? My guess is, yes, she was. Did this young teenager understand the intricate factors underlying the Holocaust and the dynamics of the evolution of this “final solution”? I doubt it. However, I do believe that Anne Frank was an optimist who had a positive view of humanity.
A positive view of humanity… really? In the face of so much discomfort, deprivation and constant fear brought down upon herself and her family, how could she see any good in the Nazis? I grew up in the decade immediately after World War II, when the wartime prejudices and hatred towards the Germans and Japanese were still fresh. As a kid, I remember shunning another school mate because he had a German surname. I wasn’t a teenager at the time, and I certainly had not learned the importance of tolerance. It was my study of History that allowed me to understand that concept so that I could retain my hatred of evil acts and let go of my hatred for those who committed them.
She claims in this passage that we don’t know our potential – or how great we can be. This seemed to excite her imagination because she used exclamation marks. We don’t know how great we can be, is the good news. If we accept this idea, then we’re more likely to explore possibilities than we had before. Our minds become open to the world of possibility – as Emily Dickinson asserted in her poetry. Indeed, that is good news!!
I can see Anne’s hopes and dreams for herself in her declarations that we don’t know how much we can love. In my mind, her age doesn’t discount the validity of these claims. Can any of us really know how much we can love if we don’t ‘push the envelope’ in our own lives? If we consider our family members, friends and colleagues, can any of us say that we have exhausted our potential to love these people? Can we do more? Should we do more? I believe that Anne Frank is encouraging us to explore this potential. I’m sure that this is the best way to prevent another Holocaust.
Anne also challenges us to consider what we can accomplish in life. When I retired from teaching seven years ago, I wasn’t thinking about future accomplishments. I was thinking about writing as a way of keeping busy and enjoying my retirement years. I wasn’t thinking about great accomplishments when I joined Rave Reviews Book Club a year ago this month. Despite my fears and reluctance to be adventurous, I accepted a position on the RRBC Board of Directors. Then I started volunteering to do things like host an Internet radio program, and becoming the Producer of eight shows each month. Really?? What did I know about producing BlogTalkRadio shows? Not much, so I had to learn in a hurry! A year ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of getting involved in what I do now every single day. Why? I had no idea what I could accomplish in life! What’s in store for me next year? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out!!