Why Sometimes it's Good to Keep Things Inside
by Helen Bryant
Suitable for Key Stage 4/5
To reflect on a quote from Albert Camus and consider how this might speak to us today.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and two students – one to play a part in a little drama briefly at the beginning of the assembly and again a bit further on, but differently, and one in the audience to play to.
- Create an image of the quotation from Albert Camus used later on in the assembly and have the means to display it.
Leader: Get the student playing the part to come in, bump into the other prepared student in the audience, drop something, trip over and then take it out on him or her, saying the following.
Student playing part: What! What are you all staring it? I'm having a bad morning, OK, and (name) has just really annoyed me. Why shouldn't I be able to say how I feel, why should I always have to keep everything to myself and behave, just because I'm a sixth-former?
I feel upset because I couldn't sleep because I was thinking about all the work I have to do and then I remembered when someone just had a go at me for no reason.
Leader: Hang on a second, hasn't (he or she) just had a go at someone else for no particular reason? Just because (he or she) is angry?
How might (he or she) have gone about it differently?
That's right. (He or she) could have taken a deep breath and waited or even just said nothing or else apologized for running into the person.
Let's look at it again.
Repeat the little drama of the student playing the part, exactly the same, bumping into the other student in the audience, but this time giving a nicer, kinder response.
Next, I want us to look at this quote from Albert Camus.
Display the image of the following quote.
We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes, our ravages. But our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to fight them in ourselves and in others.
Albert Camus, The Rebel: An essay on man in revolt
Let's break this quote down.
. . . carry within us our places of exile, our crimes, our ravages.
To be exiled means to be away from your home, while either being explicitly refused permission to return and/or being threatened with imprisonment or death if you do so. It can be a form of punishment and solitude. Romeo was exiled to Mantua for killing Tybalt in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet and Napoleon was exiled to St Helena.
To be exiled means to be withdrawn, either because we have chosen to be or it is the express requirement of the law.
Regarding this quote, however, I imagine it is saying instead that, within us all, we have those places that we ‘exile’ ourselves to. Our minds can be extremely powerful in this regard. We can withdraw into ourselves and internalize feelings and thoughts, for either good or ill. We can exile others, too, by imagining that people don't like us, they are being mean to us, and so we withdraw and the problems become worse.
The next bit – ‘our crimes’ – is not saying we have committed crimes, but is referring to those things, throughout our lives that we have done wrong or things which might have been our fault. We all carry those within us. I am sure you can think of one such thing right now or even several.
Finally in this bit of the quote, Camus talks of ‘our ravages’.
To be ‘ravaged’ by something means things are almost destroyed or that, over time, we have been struggling with the destructive effects of something, whether it be a corrosive and toxic relationship or some deeper problem. These things make life hard to live sometimes, but most of them are temporary. We need to deal with these situations and face them in our own way.
The next part of the quote seems to be cautionary:
But our task is not to unleash them on the world.
Now, this isn't saying that we should keep all our problems to ourselves and not get help if we need it. Indeed, it is sometimes essential to seek out the right help and guidance, especially if we need professional help.
Let us think back to the drama we saw earlier, when (name) unleashed (his or her) ‘ire’ (wrath or anger) on (name) simply because (he or she) was feeling stressed.
It is important to be aware that, often, we don't know what else is going on in someone else's lives, nor what they might be coping with.
I wonder if your parent or teacher has ever snapped at you and you've folded into tears or felt angry because it really hurt. Maybe, occasionally, we need to look for ways to deal with our anger and frustrations that don’t include taking it out on somebody else. Maybe, if you know you fly off the handle occasionally, you could look for strategies or even just count to ten before saying what first comes into your head and then not say it.
Finally, Camus gives us a sense of hope:
. . . it is to fight them in ourselves and in others.
Despite all the negativity that can come from our crimes, our ravages, our frustrations and our places of loneliness and isolation, we can still make things better.
Time for reflection
Let’s take a moment to think about the subject matter we’ve been considering today – some pretty tough material!
By understanding our feelings and working with them, by working on our experiences, we not only help ourselves but also we can help others. This might mean that we think before getting upset or we get help for a problem we need to work on. Either way, such things transform us as individuals and those we come into contact with. Good can always come out of the negative if we are willing to let it.