Posted: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 1:47:07 AM
I have never been one to let another person step all over me. Some might call me a “spit-fire”; some might say I lack certain social graces that would allow me to swallow the words that wish to flood my throat and spill out onto the floor like vomit. However, I simply cannot help myself. A teacher of mine once lectured me on the subject of teenagers' lack of adequate consciences, and a budding sociopath is so deeply rooted in all of us that only the pragmatism of adulthood could dig it out. I resented this. When I recognize injustice, it burns a hole in my gut, and my tongue starts to twitch with anxiety. My favorite book, All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, wrenched my heart into a place that causes empathy to burst through every seam of my body at the sight of treachery, and it taught me to apply it.
One of Remarque's most powerful scenes in this novel was the death of Gerard Duval, the French soldier, at the hands of Paul Bäumer. Paul, the epitome of passion, empathy, and boyish sensitivity, stabbed Gerald after he encroached upon his bunker spot. As Gerard lay in the mud, struggling to stay alive, Paul was stranded in the bunker, forced to wallow in the blood of his enemy and hear his ghostly gasps as he draws nearer to death. He tried to redeem himself, desperately bandaging Gerard and giving him water. It was so impulsive for Paul to stab the faceless man. I found myself transported by this image, willing Gerard to live while trying to hush his dying gurgles in a blinding panic. Paul was helpless, trapped in the repercussions of his indiscretion as I lay with Gerard, yearning to call out for help as I applied pressure to his relentlessly gushing wound. At that moment of my reading, I put down the book. I tried so hard not to think of times I had inflicted harm upon someone else in social retaliation. Why is it easy to push someone down out of fear of that person pushing you down first? Sharp tongues are as good as daggers for the purpose of wounding.
Teenagers create pressure on those around them; it is a fact of life that will never go away. However, empathizing with others can touch people. Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, among other things, taught me to value compassion. Even Paul Bäumer, the embodiment of a sense of virtue in men, hurt another with his instincts to save himself no matter the cost. In the moments we act without thinking, it is our job not only to clean up our own messes, but to clean up the messes of the other “sociopathic” teenagers out there with the sense of vigor we once used for impulse.