Chapter 33 of the Peter and Gertrud KLopp Story – Part VI

Empathy for Peter


Brand New University of Calgary in the Mid 60’s

In Educational Foundations we studied the great philosophers of education from Socrates to Piaget. For this course also the university had set up tutorial classes to facilitate the exchange of ideas in small discussion groups. I spite of my language difficulties I felt I had a noticeable advantage. I was about five years older and therefore more mature in many aspects of learning. I also brought a wealth of life experiences, which enabled me to enrich the class with new and fresh ideas. To the amazement of my much younger fellow students I was not afraid to criticize the great thinkers of the past. There was venerable Rousseau for example, who advocated locking up disobedient children in a dark room instead of using corporal punishment. Remembering all too well my own ordeals being locked up as a young child in the dingy storage room of Mr. Stoll’s carpentry shop, I declared that in my opinion locking up a child was one of the cruelest forms of punishment and that ultimately spanking justly applied without causing physical harm was to be preferred.

Some other time we were discussing the importance of the family in early childhood development. Having a much broader concept of education in mind, I emphasized with as much conviction as I still have today, “The family is the smallest unit in a society. As healthy cells make a healthy body, so family units that are intact and provide a caring environment for the children are the building blocks for a strong society. Take away the health of the family and the state will sooner or later suffer and begin to disintegrate.” I am sure that I expressed these thoughts quite differently, but the idea came across with electrifying results. The students were most likely wondering, where this immigrant student had all his ideas from. Little did they know that I had studied Mommsen’s ‘History of Rome’ and that the ideas about the importance of the family were as old as the Roman Republic!

One day our tutorial instructor felt the need to divide us into groups of four or five students each. To develop a feeling for empathy, a term that can be easily defined in clinical terms but is otherwise quite an elusive concept, we needed someone in our group, who would be willing to take on the role of a client and come up with a story, to which the others as would-be councillor would react with supportive questions and remarks. A lot of time was being wasted, because nobody wanted to be saddled with the difficult role of the client. After a long pause, I said, “OK, I’ll do it. Just give me a little bit of time to think.”

Then I began without referring to any specific time or place to tell the story of my father, how close we had become before he had left home, how he gave me a guiding hand with my schoolwork, how much I was shaken up by my parents’ divorce, how I had to wait for five long years before I could see him again, how I spent many happy hours at his new home, then how suddenly and unexpectedly I had lost my father all over again and this time forever, when he died of a massive heart attack. By the time I had spoken the last sentence, it was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop in the tutorial room. All other groups had stopped their exercise to listen in to the extraordinary story that was grabbing everybody’s attention. Then the students were getting noisy with shouts of praise and admiration. After the tutor regained quiet and order, he said to me, “It seems your creative story caused quite an outpour of empathy. How did you think it all up so quickly?”

In a strange mix of pride and self-pity, I replied, “I’d wish it had been just a story.” With these words I quickly left the room. In my heart I was thankful to tutor and students for respecting my privacy and not asking any more questions in the sessions that followed.

32 thoughts on “Chapter 33 of the Peter and Gertrud KLopp Story – Part VI

  1. Good to see that you had the courage to speak up against Rosseau, Peter. He was cruel to the children, richtig doof, say Siri and Selma. I love the part where you came up with the story of your father, it moved me deeply too. Your chronicle is so well written and this is yet another chapter that would make a captivating film scene.

    Are back in your very special hotel room now, Peter? We do hope you are fine, sending you and Biene our love, best wishes and fairy energy. xxxx

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Dina, for mentioning again, how you see the story unfold like a film before your inner eyes! I am presently relaxing at home during the weekend. Anthony, our third son, flew in from Victoria to drive me home to my beloved Biene. Thank you for your best wishes. I can feel the fairy energy even at this great distance.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Peter, there were so many points in your post that appealed to me, I’m not sure which ones to comment on. Your relationship with your father, your views on child discipline, the importance of the family in society. I feel empathy for your story just like your fellow students did, except from a place where I’ve had a lot of those life experiences myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. a very moving story again, dear Peter. You surely had a very different back-ground coming from Europe at that time than your fellow students. I once read: how can you explain a pencil to an Eskimo?”, i.e. how could they understand your former life without having been there. But you brought a new issue into their world and enrichened it. Have a nice weekend, kind regards from always rainy Hamburg, Mitza

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like the analogy with the pencil and the Eskimo. Looking back at the time of 50 years ago, I must state that one positive aspect of the Canadian society stands out in my story, the openminded attitude and tolerance towards cultural diversity. Thank you, dear Mitza, for your insightful comment!


  4. Wie gut kann ich Deine Gefühle von damals nachvollziehen,Peter. Wunderbar, daß Du den Mut gefunden hast, den Ansichten des großen Rosseau zu widersprechen. Kinder im Dunkeln einzusperren ist das Letzte..
    Und Deine traurigen Erfahrungen mit Deinem Vater, die Du in das Seminar mit eingebracht hast, haben damals nicht nur die anderen Studenten und Lehrer bewegt , sondern sichtlich auch in Dir wieder einiges ausgelöst. Sicher ist das auch heute noch so, wenn Du daran denkst? Mir geht es bei Vielem auch so..
    Wie einen doch Unverarbeitetes noch nach so langer Zeit bewegen kann, was?

    Wir wünschen Dir beide auch weiterhin alles,alles Gute, Peter !
    Herzliche Grüße !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Die tragische Geschichte meines Vaters hatte mich tief beschäftigt und das Schreiben im Blog hat mir geholfen, so manches zu verarbeiten und zu überwinden Als tragisch habe ich als Kind schon empfunden, wie unsere Familie die Wirren des 2. Weltkrieges überlebt hatte und dann in den Nachkriegsjahren auseinander fiel. Vielen Dank, liebe Edda, für deinen lieben Kommentar, der so viel Mitgefühl und Verständnis für unsere Geschichte zeigt, als wäre es deine eigene!


  5. I’m so sorry about your father, and about you being locked up as a child. (I agree, that is much worse than a simple spanking.) I think it took courage to share your story with your class, and I’m thinking that they all learned a valuable lesson from it. I’m glad you had your dad in your life, at least for part of it. Something is better than nothing. Still, I can’t imagine your grief from losing him twice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, dear Ann, for your words of comfort! Fifty years of a good life contributed greatly of overcoming my grief. As you hinted, the memories of my summer holidays spent with my dad in a beautiful part of Germany are now the source of my joy. I think what impressed my fellow students so much was the fact that the story was real and not made up to study empathy.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Sorry for not reading till the end…
    “locking up disobedient children in a dark room”
    I was locked up as a child of maybe 5 years (or younger) in a room, where the dead body of my aunt had been lieing on a bed for one or two days, before they brought her to to the funeral. As I learned only very late in my life, my older brother locked me up there. My mother returned to home only at least one hour later and apparently heard me screaming.
    I can’t remember but I think all is covered deep down in my body and my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a horrific experience! I hope that writing about it has helped you and brought some relief from the psychological burden you had carried for so many years. Your older brother definitely deserved a good spanking for having been so cruel to you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Peter, I think the experience was too much for me to keep it on the surface, so I think it’s something that is deeply burried.

        My wife told me only recently some gruel facts about the treatment she got from her mother. Definitely something that has had big impact on her life. When she was telling me the facts I somehow remembered what happenend to me in my own family.

        I guess, Peter, that really a lot children have had similiar experiences. Some cope with them better than others.

        Many thanks for your kind answer!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Gerhard, to overcome traumatic experiences that you and your wife had during your childhood, it is good to talk and write about them. Having had similar experiences I can feel empathy for both of you. Take care!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your open words, Peter!

        Now I can better understand her reactions. She will never overcome these bitter experiences but a partner who knows them by heart, can recognize them in her reactions and feelings in daily life – I hope. That’s all I can hope for 🙂

        On my blog I wrote about the possibility of passing on traumatic experiences from generation to generation, through

        Liked by 1 person

  7. wow – riveting post – the history and the way you shared it with the class and the health/wellness I detect.
    so much to think about – and for some reason, I like the ending words:

    “In a strange mix of pride and self-pity”
    that also says a lot to the adjustment and grappling as you move on decade after decade

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Losing someone you love is difficult and traumatic. I can only try to understand the emotions you underwent. I think the reason why your teacher thought it was story was because he thought you will cook one in the time that you asked for. Little he knew you were talking about life incident.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It must have been very difficult talking about such an emotionally-charged topic in front of your classmates, Peter, even if they were not aware that it was a true story. I imagine that by the end, though, some of them must have realized there was more to it all than mere fiction. As you say, it was decent of them not to pry in subsequent classes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was indeed very difficult for a number of reasons. As you said it was an emotionally charged topic. Then my English as a second language was not quite good enough at that time to take on the task of speaking to an entire
      group. Finally, I was an extremely shy individual. So it took a lot of courage on my part to accept the role of a client. Thank you, dear Bun, for taking such a genuine interest in our story. I am presently near the end of my
      cancer treatment away from Biene. Your comments bring me so much joy, as they give me courage, hope and optimism for a successful outcome of my treatment.

      Liked by 1 person

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