What Everyone Can Learn From Elsa Cayat's Final Column In Charlie Hebdo

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We’ve all seen this image of Elsa Cayat. But who was she, and what did she write about for Charlie Hebdo?  (Photos: Twitter/Madame Figaro | Twitter/ Bilith)

To the French, Elsa Cayat was a well-known Parisian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who penned a twice-monthly column in Charlie Hebdo. 

To the rest of the world, she’s become a public face of a tragic terror attack. Cayat’s story trickled out a few days after the shooting: That she was one of 12 people killed in a surprise ambush at the Charlie Hebdo offices. That she was the only woman killed, while the other female staff members in the office at the time were deliberately spared. That she may have been singled out because she was Jewish.

If we dig a little deeper, we find that she was an author, a mother, a wife, a sister, a cousin, a dog owner, and a very good listener.

But in the U.S., little, if anything, is known about what she wrote.

Charlie Hebdo is a weekly satirical newspaper that’s become infamous for the provocative humor of its cartoons. But the paper also regularly publishes very serious articles on politics, sociology, economics, and Cayat’s complex columns on psychology. Cayat combined her studies of Jacques Lacan (a French psychoanalyst who influenced Parisian intellectuals in the 1960s and 70s) with her professional experience as a practicing psychologist in her column “Charlie Divan” (Charlie’s Couch).

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In her column she explained how important analysis is in people’s lives, always in a very philosophical way, to help people find meaning in their personal life and emotional difficulties.

She drew in readers with stories about her patients, sharing their eureka moments with a dose of dry humor. For example, “Christmas Is Really a Pain in the Ass” was the headline of the very last column she penned for Charlie Hebdo for the Jan. 7 edition of the magazine.

She has said of her profession, “The goal of psychoanalysis is to turn back time, to turn the s—- and blackness buried six feet under into gold, so [people] again find the open-mindedness they had as a child.” 

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And that’s exactly what she does in her last published column, titled La Capacité de S’Aimer, or, in English, “The Ability to Love”. Surviving Charlie Hebdo editors curated the Jan. 14 issue — the first issued after the attack — to celebrate the most meaningful work of their lost colleagues. With the choice of Cayat’s column, they made a poignant statement on tolerance — and accepting others for their differences.  

Here are the three major takeaways, translated from Cayat’s final column for Charlie Hebdo.

1. It’s Harder Than We Think to Open Up to Others and Accept Their Differences 

Because to do so, you need to know yourself, and know your own differences.

"I want to talk about the difficulty humans encounter in opening up to others and their differences, but also their difficulty to make room for it,” Cayat says in her column. “And from this observation, highlight how hard it is for them to acknowledge the fact they don’t make any room for their own differences."

2.  Before We Can Understand Others, We Need to First Know Ourselves 

To find out who we really are, we need to look far back into our history, and pretend you’re seeing yourself for the first time, before any experiences added bias to your life. We need to reweave our web and accept ourselves.

"People fear to go back in time, to revisit their childhood loves in their reality, to analyze their old emotions, which at times, reappear at their expense,” Cayat wrote.

3. We Have To Call Our References Into Question 

 “To get out of these domination relationships and find a positive relation to each other — an open one, not based on self-denial and therefore the denial of the other — there is no other way than to discard all preconceived illusions,” Cayat wrote. 

So ask yourself: Do I really understand myself? Who am I? How do I work? Are my beliefs, education and everything that has forged me the only way to live? 

In summary: We may all have vastly different beliefs, but to co-exist together in this world we need to respect and tolerate each other. And the ability to do so lies only within ourselves.