“Do As I Say, Not As I Do”… Still Doesn’t Work

I need strength, humility, courage, patience. Strength to control my passions, humility to assess my own worth, courage to rise above defeats, patience, to cleanse myself of imperfections. And wisdom: to learn and live by our sacred teachings. Let me not be discouraged by my failings. Let me take heart from all that is good and noble in my character. Keep me from falling victim to cynicism. Teach me sincerity and enthusiasm. Endow me with perception and courage that I may serve others with compassion and love. – Robert Kahn, “I Need Strength,” Mishkan T’Filah prayer book p. 336.

I must admit, I am a political junkie. Stop, don’t close the post, it’s not going to be political! Well, not too political.
But… something struck me this week as I watched a video clip of an interview with a presidential candidate, who shall remain nameless. They were discussing their “competitive sparring.” I wonder if that politician would accept such childish and hollow excuses justifying outright-insulting another human being … if their children used that excuse? (Whew, political reference over and we all survived.)

And politicians aren’t the only ones with such double standards. In the entertainment world, people are still grappling with a scandal unfurling for a once-beloved “father figure” celebrity. I wonder what his reaction would be if he found out someone in his own family had been violated in the way he is accused of having violated others?

The hypocrisy of those who present themselves as moral role models failing to uphold the morals they promote is gut-wrenching. When found guilty of wrongdoing, so many seem to construct the most poetically formulated rationales about how they are not guilty, or why the rule they broke did not, cannot, and should not apply to them.

When I was a teacher, my students and I would often focus on key words in texts. I chose the prayer above as the opening thought for this post because I could not help but notice the power in its key words: strength, humility, courage, patience, control, humility, courage, imperfections, wisdom, sacred teachings, failings, character, cynicism, sincerity, perception, serve, compassion, and love. AMEN.

In my experience we hear each previous generation speak about how the youth of today is corrupting the moral fabric of society, that they are breaking moral codes, and on and on. But I spent the last couple years working as a public school vice principal. In the Mississippi Delta, no less. And I think blaming today’s kids is just wrong. They are not the issue; we are all part of the problem, and part of the solution.

The distance between apples and trees is closer than one might think. Let us treat our children with enough respect to acknowledge that they see what we do (and do not do). They notice when what we verbalize does not match our actions. If we say that making fun of other people is not okay, then it is not okay for anybody — grown-ups included. If we say that fighting should be a last resort reserved for only the most severe of circumstances, that rule applies to us, too. If we say that a world of intelligent and literate people is best then we should be reading with our children. And if we say, pray, exclaim, and chant that helping others is a value that all humanity should share then everybody should be picking up a book, making an extra sandwich, planting a tree, and going to a nursing home. It’s not just about what we say, it’s about what we do.

This week, let’s not just watch what we say to the next generation. Let’s remember they’re watching us, and act accordingly.

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