Opening Hearts and Minds

By: Stuart Adelberg 

As I write, our nation lingers in the most divisive state that I can remember. I offer no opinions here on the politics of the day, as I have already done that, like millions of others, with my recent vote. Today’s issues are stark for so many of us and this makes it seem almost impossible to comprehend those who see things differently. Though understandable, I worry about the lasting damage this situation has inflicted on personal relationships and our increasing inability to engage with those who have different points of view.

I grew up with the idea that an open mind, the ability to listen and learn, and the desire to seek compromise were positive attributes. I have fond memories of college classes and family discussions that challenged my preconceived notions, and of heated debates with respected antagonists with whom I might never agree, but whose arguments were at least as important, worthy and well founded as my own.

Today, so many of us demonstrate an unwillingness to connect with those with whom we disagree, a lack of interest in listening to unique and different perspectives, a sense that it is unnecessary to consider anyone else’s opinion. We see debates devolve into altercations, disagreements become personal attacks, and compromises defined as weakness. This is so unfortunate. It is my privilege to know many brilliant people, but not one of them is right 100% of the time, and I think most of them would agree that every day presents an opportunity to learn something valuable from someone else.

Recently, the Avon Theatre Film Center showed a wonderful film that demonstrated to me how even the most ingrained feelings and opinions can be changed by experiencing something from another person’s perspective. THE KEEPER recounted the true story of Bert Trautmann, a German paratrooper who is captured by the British during World War II. While exercising in a prisoner of war camp, Bert’s extraordinary talent as a football goalkeeper is revealed. As the end of the war approaches, Bert is recruited by the revered Manchester City Football Club. As I watched the film in the Avon’s beautiful historic theatre, I experienced the same mixed emotions displayed by the British football fans as they struggled to decide whether a former Nazi can be forgiven and transformed from enemy to national sports hero.

The Holocaust is personal to me and the idea that someone who participated, even on the periphery of the Nazi cause, might be worthy of forgiveness is difficult for me to consider. If presented with this as an academic question, I would have likely rejected the possibility out of hand. But this film introduced me to Bert as a human being, an imperfect man who struggled with the memories of what he witnessed and the remorse over what he lacked the personal strength to do. According to the story, it was a Rabbi and leader of the local Jewish community who was the first to publicly encourage forgiveness and acceptance, a truly charitable and open-minded act at a time when the wounds of the war were still incredibly fresh.

I did not anticipate being so personally touched by THE KEEPER, but such is the power of a quality film. It doesn’t tell you what to think or feel – but the entirety of the theatrical experience inserts you fully into a world of new perspectives. One cannot help but be moved. After the year that we have all had – opening our hearts and minds to new perspectives seems like something we might all embrace. See you at the Avon!