Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
To be honest, I really struggle in these months before an election. The tsunami of political rhetoric in and of itself is overwhelming. Top that off with the whirlwind of analyses that all too often spark the next go-round of uncivil discourse. In years past, it could be somewhat invigorating — at least when a candidate was speaking “my language.” Now, it just sort of sickens me, because the messages — the real values being spoken — are overwhelmed by … by what? By media and social media? I’m not so sure. I think it’s deeper than that.
I am concerned that so many in our nation are so focused on supporting the candidate(s) with whom we resonate that we may automatically demonize their political counterparts because of their otherness — that is: they are not like us. They don’t say the things we do, or seem to espouse the values we embrace. This reaction may be human. It may have its roots in our ancient tribal instincts — but I also sense that it is dangerous. Can we be sure our own perspectives valid enough prisms through which to view our world and make decisions that will impact ourselves and others far beyond our lifetimes?
If, in relying solely on our own values, we show disdain for those who think differently, are we really striving for a halcyon concept of social unity, or could we possibly be contributing to a national, and dangerous, culture of intolerance? For example, I may justly rage against someone who will demonstrate ignorance and cruelty toward those I care for or empathize with. But will I be tempted to be silent if the same cruelty was leveled against one I considered to be a moral enemy? On what would I be basing my reaction?
I say reactions because so often our moral and ethical values are so embedded in our beings that we may no longer take time to consider and process what may be the darker side of our perspectives – and their consequences.
Clearly, these are not new moral questions – but they are pertinent for so many reasons – not the least of which is that it is not always so clear who the “other” is – or to whom we, ourselves, are the “other.” Is it a candidate or neighbor? An immigrant or a Muslim? A weapons advocate, a union organizer… or even a fellow Jew? It all depends on what ignites our indignation and, more importantly, what we most fear.
Every individual has a responsibility to choose a candidate who reflects, to the greatest extent possible, the values they espouse. However, I feel we have an even greater responsibility to model respectful dialogue, promote civil discourse, seek common ground and even allay fears – which means we have to be willing to face our own. Rather than ignite our indignation, might we ignite our imaginations and help to create a just society in which solutions for the truly pressing problems — for example, the rights of all species to live and thrive — may be found?