The Power of Personal Testimony

Last night I finally got around to watching a film that I have been meaning to see for a very long time - 'Schindler's List'.  The tragic story details one of the worst periods in the history of mankind - The Holocaust, and how one man was able to save over 1200 Jewish men, women and children from the atrocities taking place under the Nazi reign.  It is a truly spectacular film, which is so moving that it feels physically draining.  It is nigh impossible to comprehend what those people went through and it casts a very dark shadow over our society as a whole.

What I found even more fascinating however, were the bonus features on the DVD.  Entitled 'Voices from the List', a short film showed visual testimonies from lots of Holocaust survivors as collected by the Shoah Visual History Foundation.  This foundation was set-up by Steven Spielberg after he was so inspired by these survivors during the making of Schindler's List. He explains that he reason for setting up the foundation was to capture the real life stories from these people who were the victims of  such crimes against humanity, and let them educate future generations in order to avoid similar events from happening again.  The testimonies are incredibly powerful, simply because of the fact that they are straight from the survivor's mouths.  I was struck by the potential of visual history archives like this, I must agree with Spielberg who states that documenting these is the most important thing we can do to prevent such atrocities from re-occurring.

With that in mind, I started to think about how perhaps we could use this concept in our own lives.  We have all done things that we regret, that were out of character, or were simply the wrong decisions at the time.  The brutal reality is that, in many cases, we tend to repeat those mistakes again and again.  What we learn in hindsight somehow gets forgotten as life regains speed and without realising it, we can fall into a habit of making the same wrong decisions.

What if we documented those realisations we had after making such mistakes?

If we watched ourselves speak about the pitfalls we fell into, would that enable us to make better decisions in the future?

I am a little sceptical because I don't like to live in the past or contemplate past mistakes, but for some people I could imagine that there might be some benefit!  As long as you are strong enough to ward off the 'personal criticism' from yourself, and you have the self-confidence to make a decision again - it may offer some value.  Another reason that I am a little hesitant to recommend it is that it can also focus your mind on refusing to repeat past mistakes, as opposed to finding the best solution for a problem.  It is a defensive mechanism that won't work in all situations.  In certain circumstances however, there may be some merit to the idea.  I'm not sure it would work for everyone, but it is certainly something to think about.