Give yourself a treat—it will take less than 10 minutes out of your day—and listen to Sir Ben Kingsley being interviewed by NPR’s Scott Simon in front of an audience at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Kingsley has played a range of Holocaust-related roles including Murderers Among Us, Schindler’s List, and The Whole Story.
He speaks truthfully and poetically about his roles and his understanding of tragedy, which he has deeply considered as a result of playing these roles. He says that an actor is a storyteller, and I think this applies to therapists, healers, leaders and parents—we are all storytellers. Tribal storytellers, “sitting around the bonfire, telling stories to reassure people about the past, comfort them about the future, and build bridges of empathy to deal with those aspects of life that are baffling.”
Kingsley speaks about the importance of being able to “embrace tragedy as part of our lives.” He paraphrases playwright David Mamet as saying, “Western civilization is a civilization determined to outlaw tragedy.” Psychologically we attempt to do this through denying ourselves, repressing ourselves, confusing ourselves, and distracting ourselves. But Kingsley suggests that if we—the storytellers—remove the interpretation of tragedy from our stories, we’ll be telling nothing. He says, “Removing tragedy doesn’t prepare us for our real lives as adults; it infantilizes us.”
I consider this interview to be an expression of wisdom from someone who has spent a great deal of time considering tragedies that were so horrific they are undeniable. At the end of the interview Kingsley speaks of a woman who saw him play Hamlet and she asked him, “How did you know about me?” He explains, “That’s my job. I know you; I’m trying to know you. And through knowing each other and holding onto that tribal bonfire we’ll be okay.”
If you are seeking a new way to think about tragedy—a constructive way—listen to this interview.
Either of the two following links should take you to the interview. The first one should take you directly to the interview, but if that doesn’t work, use the second link and scroll down the page to find the interview.