We have become a deeply polarized nations, with ideology trumping practicality at every turn. We saw this in the fiscal cliff debate. We are seeing it in the gun control battle.
Does politics have to be this divisive? Can it fulfill Aristotle’s ancient ideal of lifting up our national conversation and morale, rather than weakening and cheapening it? Can we still speak of the idea of the common good?
Jewish tradition has some useful wisdom and insight to address this challenge. We love debate, but we also love meaningful solutions. Here are some guidelines for achieving them:
1. Civility is sacred: We do not gain points by pushing another down. Rather, we gain respect when listening, understanding and responding thoughtfully to an opponent’s point of view.
2. Words are sacred: Among the greatest Jewish transgressions we can commit is engaging in Lashon Harah, which is a Hebrew phrase meaning “malicious conversation.” Lashon Harah does not refer only to gossip or overt lying. It encompasses language that shames another. It includes words that incite conflict rather than invite cooperation.
3. Life is sacred: In the next few weeks, we will likely hear many debates about background checks, assault rifle capacity, and the Second Amendment. These are important issues. Yet, our underlying moral concern must always be the presevation of life.
It’s Not Just About Gun Control
Preserving life is a moral imperative speaks not only to gun control.
It demands a focus on what we watch on TV and what games we let our children play.
It challenges us to think about those who feel no sense of hope or purpose and turn to violence for attention or glory.
It urges us to ask ourselves what we are doing to build a culture where help is available to those who need it and parents and mentors are there for children who desperately need them.
The Role of Politics
Not all problems can be solved through politics. Sometimes legislation creates more problems than it solves. Even so, we need to take sensible measures that can help protect our most vulnerable. And we need leaders who think not only of campaign cash but of the common good.
The Bible tells us that “we cannot stand idly by while our neighbor bleeds.” Now is the time to stop the bleeding.
Friends, I will be on Fox News Live Friday at 1:00 PM EST discussing Religion and Gun Control. Tune in and let me know what you think!
By Evan Moffic
Life rains down on all of us. We experience loss, sadness, frustration, difficult times, goals missed, dreams disappointed. We go through broken relationships, betrayals, trust misplaced, loved ones hurt.
Yet, while the rain can drown us, it can also strengthen us. While it can overwhelm, it can also energize. What makes the difference is the character trait we call resilience. To be resilient is to be able survive the winter and make it to spring. It is to learn from and find a way to understand life’s difficulties.
The Courage To Rejoice
How do we become more resilient? The Danish existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote a profound sentence in his Journals: “It requires moral courage to grieve; it requires religious courage to rejoice.”
What Kierkegaard calls religious courage is the sense that life has a purpose and a meaning. When we know that our life matters–when we live for something larger than ourselves–we are more likely to have the courage to rejoice even when life is hard.
The Right Perspective
That is not to say that we should see the world through rose-colored lenses. Voltaire’s character Dr. Pangloss in Candide saw “the best of all possible worlds” in everything, but that is unrealistic and impossible for many of us. Rather, we can shift our perspective.
We can struggle to see our lives from a long and broad perspective. When we do so, we often experience more gratitude and feelings of accomplishment, and the sadness of the moment is seen as temporary rather than permanent.
Sometimes we need to force ourselves to look at this broader perspective. It does not come naturally. As Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert wrote in his book Stumbling on Happiness, “Most of us have a tough time imagining a tomorrow that is terribly different from today…”
“We cannot feel good about an imaginary future when we are busy feeling bad about an actual present… we find that it’s a lot like trying to imagine the taste of marshmallow while chewing liver.”
The Spirit of Resilience
What a resonant description! Yet, what faith does is give us the means and tools to look at our lives more broadly. When we pray, we see ourselves as part of a people that precedes and will succeed us.
When we study, we attach ourselves to an ancient and everlasting tradition. When we we gather together, we make up a community that can hold us up when we falter, and can give us comfort and strength when we need it most.
By Evan Moffic
President Bill Clinton’s receiving Father of the Year award has raised some eyebrows. We all probably have different views of the propriety of the award.
Still, we can use it as a spark to discuss what we can learn from our parents. Sometimes we learn what to do along with what not to do.
I am fortunate to have two phenomenal parents. What I say below surely reflects my own experience, as much as it conveys wisdom and insight from Jewish tradition.
1. Affirm: Use language that honors and encourages. Our job is not change our spouse but love.
2. Admire: This maysound strange, since we usually admire a person older or more famous. But you can admire your spouse for what makes him or her unique or successful.
3. Share: Do stuff you love–movies, plays, walks in the park–together. It’s not what we accumulate that brings happiness. It’s the experience we remember.
4. Model a healthy relationship for kids: We teach by what we do, not just what we say. Show commitment through behavior.
5. Apologize when you do something wrong: Pride doesn’t win in marriage.
6. Realize that you can be right and still be wrong: Put differently, you can win an argument and still hurt the relationship.
7. Present a united front: Never undermine one another in front of your children. Disagree in private.
8. Remember what brought you together: The grind of daily life can make us forget the sparks of love. Recall and recount them.
9. Take time for each kid and for one another: If you have several children, make sure each one gets alone time with each parent.
10. Support and serve one another in everything you do: I often tell couples I marry that “the little things are the big things.” Successful relationships are not made in one day. They are sustained by the little actions–the phone calls, the kind words, the cup of coffee made without asking–that show much we care for one another.
By Evan Moffic
Delivering a eulogy for a loved one takes great empathy and maturity. I’ve been moved by many I have heard.
Often, however, I wonder what impact the words expressed would have had on the person being remembered. Did they ever have the opportunity to know what their loved ones felt? Did they appreciate the contributions they had made to lives of those who loved them?
All too often, the answer is no. Yes, they may have had toasts at a birthday party or had meaningful conversations with their spouse or children. They may have memory books or letters from grandchildren. Yet, we often hesitate in expressing our admiration and appreciation for those we love.
Why Do We Wait?
Perhaps we fear exposing our own vulnerabilities. Perhaps we think we may embarrass our loved ones.
Consider, however, when our words would have the greatest impact. Why wait to express them? They can enrich our loved ones lives when they are alive.
I saw this first hand with my grandfather.He was a doctor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for 40 years.
Every once in a while he would reach into a closet in his apartment that contained a box of letters he received from patients. They spoke of his warmth and caring for them, and he would read them aloud to me as a tear or two formed in his eyes.
He savored his life’s work and gained an incalculable benefit from hearing the words of others while he still could.
When Not To Be Patient
We can apply this lesson in other areas of life as well. We can celebrate professional colleagues during their career, and not just when they move or retire. We can tell our children throughout their lives how proud we are of them, and highlight the unique gifts and talents and character they bring to the world.
Patience is a critical virtue in life. We need not be patient, however, when it comes to honoring those we love.
I Almost Told Her
Rabbi Jack Riemer tells a haunting story of a funeral he conducted. As friends and family began to leave the cemetery, the husband of the deceased remained by grave. He kept repeating to the rabbi that he loved his wife. “I love my wife, ” he said. “I love my wife.”
The rabbi said “I know. The rabbi waited, and after a while, he returned to the man and said that the cemetery was closing, and it was time to go. The man answers, “I love my wife.” The rabbi answered, “I understand. But it’s time to go. The cemetery is closing.” The man replied, “You don’t understand. I love my wife. And once I almost told her.”
This inability to express our feelings is all too common. One writer calls it “emotional constipation.” Those who have it often have little trouble expressing certain feelings like anger and annoyance. Love, however, remains inside of us. Let us pledge to bring it out.
By Evan Moffic