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Friday (7/13/18) Night's Sermon: "Civility in our society"

One of the premier commandments in the Torah is to “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself”. Back in the Talmudic period, someone showed up at Hillel’s house and asked him to teach him the entire Torah as he stood on one leg. Hillel responded: “What is hateful to you, do not do to others. The rest is commentary”.

Many of us remember when political debates were intellectual exercises. Two of more candidates would get on stage behind podiums, and it was a civics test. They would bring up issues from around the country on various fronts—economics, foreign relations—and we would follow along, our intellects stimulated.

These days, it’s still reminiscent, but more about what we used to call “rank-out session”. Each candidate now either insults the other or finds a way to denigrate him or her, usually based on personal appearance, likes or dislikes, family members. It resembles more of the Jerry Springer show than a debate with the only thing missing is the bouncers to make sure the fisticuffs don’t get out of hand.

Recently there have been other incidents as well. Now people are getting personal. Protesting isn’t enough anymore. Now, people in their businesses are refusing to serve other people because of their life styles and political affiliations.

Unfortunately, it goes further than that. Social media is rife with threads posting a news source or video, with comments getting terse, aggressive and sometimes outright vulgar. There have been situations where family member ceased interacting with each other over differing points of view and opinions.

It goes even further than that. People have always disagreed about politics. Now people are getting into physical fights and there are reports of aggression.

When and how did it get so bad?

In my company, we all interact virtually on line. Someone, in order to make a more cohesive work force, decided to start a thread called “water cooler” where people could take a few minutes out of the day and converse by a virtual water cooler. Today’s question was what do you miss out of your past that is no longer available? My answer, and there were agreements: civility.

King Solomon, in his Book of Proverbs, stated, “Who is strong? One who controls their passions.” There isn’t a lot of control going on. Some political strategists years ago started tapping into this suppressed frustration. By addressing it they fueled it and thus opened the lid on the Pandora’s Box of emotions. It snowballed into the current situation where these days people feel that now not only is it OK to act out, but the new normal.

It’s hard to stop a charging bull. It’s hard to stand in front of a gushing fire hose and contain the water of years of pent-up resentment and anger let loose. But it has to stop and there are signs that people are starting to get fed up.

The best way to change the current situation is to be, yourself, a beacon of hope. Follow the time-tested tenets of our religion. It may be hard to love your neighbor, but you can sure respect them. When someone goes into a tirade, refuse to reinforce by taking part. Either remain silent, change the subject, or walk away.

Eric Berne, in his landmark book, “Transactional Analysis”, discussed his adaptation of Freud’s make-up of the human psyche as ego states. When someone cathects or activates their inner child by expressing unrestrained passions, you can cathect the adult and be the logical Mr. Spock and address their queries with pure logic. Ask them about sources, who said what, where did the statistics come from, etc. That may quiet them down.

In the final analysis, though, these people probably have unresolved anger or resentment themselves. It may help to be understanding and make it personal by asking them how all this affects them on a personal level. Maybe they had an IRA audit that ruined their finances. Perhaps a family member had a medical illness that the current system seemed to slough off. Perhaps by being understanding, you may help them through these issues and resolve some issues.

And then we are being good Jews by truly loving our neighbors and bringing just a little peace to the world.

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