Love, nevertheless |  Rabbi Brian | 2017 | issue 36 of 40

 

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Nevertheless, love.

Hi. This is Rabbi Brian. My words here will implore you to live a life of love. My tone borders on zeal. You will hear echoes of the Buddha, Chasidic masters, Mother Teresa, 1 Corinthians 13, and what you know in your heart to be true.  If you are not able to consider that you could be living your life in more love, please do not proceed. If you do not like parts of what I write, please respond so we can both learn and grow.

 

I laugh – first and often. 

One of my endearing characteristics is that I laugh loudly when I think things are funny. Consequently, I’m often the first person laughing. Not infrequently, I’m the only one laughing.

When you are the first to laugh, you find out that what you think of as funny isn’t always what others think of as funny. Occasionally, it’s socially awkward. But, I’m ok with that. (And my loved ones are used to me.)

It takes a certain amount of vulnerability to put your opinion out first. This idea of vulnerability will come up later in a challenge I will give you about actively loving.

 

Of Fish and Folk 

I’ve read about scientists who bred the “schooling gene” out of a certain species of fish. They bred the fish until the fish no longer followed each other. Then they introduced one of the non-schooling fish into a group of the regular schooling fish. You know what happened? All the schooling fish started to follow the non-schooler.

We aren’t dissimilar. Candid camera programs and social scientists (Solomon Ash, 1958) have observed unsuspecting participants, alongside a group of stooges, as they face multiple questions.  The stooges answer with consensus, incorrectly, and the unsuspecting participants face social anxiety as they attempt to blend into the group. Ultimately, the participants routinely go against what they know is right in order to fit in.

The fish, we might argue, have a different sense of consciousness about this than humans do. Nonetheless, we, like schooling fish, find it very hard to break rank, and we often go along with the group, so we can fit in.

It’s isolating to not go along.

In the studies, 74% (almost three-quarters of people) went along with the group’s wrong answers rather than standing up for what they knew was right.

We tell kids – as though it is something that can just be learned from telling someone – not to yield to peer pressure. Yet when our “friends” say something that dehumanizes a perceived, common enemy, many of us are not willing to step out of the group and say, “I will not tolerate hearing you equate believing differently than we do with being somehow subhuman.”

(I promise our children will react differently to the conforming pressures around them if they heard their adults standing up for the beliefs and character of those who are routinely and unconsciously bullied and assassinated.)

In Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, Brené Brown writes the following:

“Here’s what I believe:  If you are offended or hurt when you hear Hillary Clinton or Maxine Waters called bitch, whore, or the c-word, you should be equally offended and hurt when you hear those same words used to describe Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, or Theresa May.  If you felt belittled when Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables”  then you should have felt equally concerned when Eric Trump said “Democrats aren’t even human.” When the president of the United States calls women dogs or talks about grabbing pussy, we should get chills down our spine and resistance flowing through our veins. When people call the president of the United States a pig, we should reject that language regardless of our politics and demand discourse that doesn’t make people subhuman.  When we hear people referred to as animals or aliens, we should immediately wonder, “Is this an attempt to reduce someone’s humanity so we can get away with hurting them or denying them basic human rights?” If you’re offended by a meme of Trump Photoshopped to look like Hitler, then you shouldn’t have Obama Photoshopped to look like the Joker on your Facebook feed. There is a line. It’s etched from dignity. And raging, fearful people from the right and left are crossing it at unprecedented rates every single day. We must never tolerate dehumanization—the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history.” (Emphasis added.)

How many of us go along with peers when they call Republican idiots or Democrats libtards?
The answer is probably similar to the Ash study and similar studies: almost three out of four.

I’m asking you to be the person who helps to put a stop to hatred.

 

Levels of morality 

Sociologists and religionists talk about moral development and a hierarchy of morality.

Here are the first three stages of moral development and morality:

1. Don’t punish me!
We are fearful of being hurt if we miss the mark.

2. Do I get a cookie?
We expect rewards for our positive behavior.

3. Because it is right
We do what is right whether or not anyone is rewarding, punishing, or watching us.

Our society hums along nicely as more adults get to level three and start to pick up the trash – which include the literal and proverbial messes we know we didn’t make.

Hereby, I ask you, an adult at level three, with the possible exception of inhabitants of NYC, to pick up litter when you are out on a walk.

Also, I don’t want to get too much into this here, but I am a proponent of an idea by Erich Fromm that the character of God – or the people’s understanding of God – develops from early Genesis’s Jealous Totalitarian Ruler – vindictive and smiting wrongdoers – through Constitutional Monarch until God is represented as our highest sense of morality – an incorporeal, stand-in for Love and our Collective Highest Ideals. <email me if you want more about this.>

There is another level beyond just doing what is right:

4. Nevertheless
Even in the face of being mocked, I will nevertheless do what is right.

Level four is what you do not to avoid punishment, not because you want a cookie, and not because you feel pride in doing it when no one is looking – but you do it even in the face of others deriding you.

 

Us, Me, and You

It is late 2017, and we are in a national (and near global) crisis. Citizens in the United States are bifurcated, and they distrust and hate each other to almost British Football hooligan proportions. We so seek team loyalty that we simply shut out those who disagree with us. Nevertheless, I call upon you to love.

I ask you to love them – whoever “they” are – even in the face of people who will scorn you for being soft. Like being willing to laugh first, I ask you to love first. Even if those around you do not follow suit. Even if they mock you. Even when they mock you 

Two words: Love, nevertheless.

 

My turn

My mother and her lifelong friend, my Aunt Elaine, chided and derided me for my post Render unto the Donald. They told me that I am being too soft and too idealistic and said that I am a dreamer because I recommended paying our taxes and giving the President praise – because that’s what he wants and flattery doesn’t cost me much.

I said to each of them:

I am not telling you not to protest, and I am not telling you to stand down from corralling votes to bring your vision of heaven on earth. I am not telling you that you are wrong. I am telling you that no one wants to admit they made a mistake, and this is especially true if they feel they are being pilloried. I am telling you that there is no one beyond love. There is no one deserving of cruelty. There is no reason to lambast or shame.

These two mother figures of mine – who were my age in the late 1960s – both of whom, like me, served in classrooms as teachers – admonished me for preaching compassion in the face of hatred.

Nevertheless, I am here again this week advocating love.

 

Your turn

If you use email or social media, I want you to do something.

Please.

I want you to think of someone whose politics are opposite of yours. Someone with whom you used to be friendly, but whom you shut out or fell out of contact within the past year or so.

Please adapt this message and send it to them. (Or, re-friend them and post this to their wall.)

To my friend on the other side of the political divide,

I am sorry to have shut you out. I ought not to have. I dehumanized you. And that was wrong. Our difference of opinion does not warrant cruelty.

And, behind your back, I have been cruel.

Please forgive me.

You are beyond neither love nor understanding. Of course you aren’t.

I am sorry if I caused you hurt by separating myself and my heart from you. (I would rather not list details of my cruelty here, but should you want an accounting, I am willing to share.)

To me, love and its components of recognition, acceptance, and understanding are more important than fighting, ignoring, excluding, and cruelty based on a difference of opinion.

My willingness to be vulnerable and tell you that I’m sorry is equally important to me.

So I ask you for forgiveness. (And, should you desire it, I tell you that I am willing to forgive you for your trespasses.)

Love. Love. Love.

My friend, let us recommit and agree upon the ideal of love. Love includes. Love accepts. Love recognizes differences. Love does not quash. Love understands. Love does not ignore.

Please let us befriend each other and be friends again. I will make space on my calendar and in my heart for you. If you would start with forgiving me. Please.

In this way, let us, as friends who know that disagreements are not fatal, commit to living in peace and without cruelty; in this way, let us help to rehumanize this world.

Love,

Me.

Do it.

Please. Please. Please. Please, my friend.

Let us bring about change in the world.

I didn’t make this mess.
And you didn’t make this mess either.
But it’s our mess, nonetheless.

Nevertheless, let us love. Let us stand up and do that which is loving, even if we are mocked for it by those with whom we school like fish.

We need to clean up this mess with love.

 

The reward

To stand up and separate ourselves from the pack is scary.

But there is a reward for so doing. It doesn’t come immediately, but it comes.

For literally cleaning up the trash around you and for putting a stop to our engaging in cruelty, there is a reward beyond the cookie for which children will sit, stay, and behave. There is peace.

Let me give a story to illustrate: Last Tuesday, my sister’s father-in-law, Harvey, became of blessed memory. As Jews traditionally bury within 48 hours, Jane and I – with the help of wonderful neighbors and friends – rearranged childcare and our work schedules. I got on a red-eye flight late Wednesday night and returned, all within 26 hours.I am exhausted. But because it was the right thing to do – to be there for my sister, her husband, and my nieces – it is the type of exhaustion that feels good.

The reward for doing the right thing is peace.
(Nonetheless, while knowing this, I will not lie to you and tell you that I feel no fear. I am petrified to send this message out into the world. Nevertheless, I must send this message. And I have.)

So I ask you:

Clean up the trash around you.
Stand up to peers when they demonize fellow human beings.
Love, nevertheless.

Rabbi Brian
With love,
Rabbi Brian
rabbi_brian@rotb.org