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Stop! Please Stop!

Friday, 23 October, 2020 - 2:33 pm

In a democracy of any sort, elections are very important. Every four years we are told that this upcoming presidential election is more important than ever. Perhaps this time that is not even an exaggeration. Each of us has a constitutionally protected right to express our political opinion and to advocate for it in discussion with others. I am all for people exercising that right.

However, I (along with billions of other humans) have been observing a disturbing trend when it comes to political discussions. This trend holds true regarding in-person discussions, but it even more prevalent and virulent when it comes to online discussions, and on social media. Instead of the discussions remaining in the realm of ideas and concepts, they are increasingly turning into personal conflicts. I get that people are passionate about the issues and their candidates, but that does not give license to wholesale insult anyone that disagrees with you. This is a massive problem, even among close friends and family members. People are unfriending each other, not just on Facebook, but in real life.

There is a verse in Isaiah (55:7), “Let the evil one abandon his way and the man of iniquity his thoughts.” The Tzemach Tzedek (third Chabad Rebbe) taught, that the Hebrew word for iniquity can also be vowelized to mean “strong willed.” A person must not go around believing and declaring that my way of understanding is the only way. We always need to consider the view of another. It does not mean we have to agree, but at least respectfully consider the other view.

We are at a point where a large percentage of those engaging in political speech on social media or elsewhere, are so convinced of the infallibility of their opinion, that they do not even give the other person the respectful courtesy of actually paying attention to what they are saying. Even as we listen to others, we are usually just absorbing their words for the purpose of a rebuttal, or even worse, to use their words against them in an insulting manner.

I am going to go out on a limb and opine, that America will survive the results of this election one way or the other (just my opinion – fee free to disagree). But the fallout over the nastiness and the divisive dialogue (not among the politicians, but) between people, threatens to have more ominous ramifications for society and humanity as a whole.

So by all means, express your opinion, advocate for your side, electioneer for your guy, and even use hyperbole or other forms of persuasion. But please, don’t get personal. Don’t insult your friend, your brother, sister or cousin, your neighbor, or your fellow occupant of planet earth.

Finally, take a moment to open your ears, your mind and your heart to the perspective of another. Two people can observe the same phenomenon and perceive it in diametrically opposite ways. Our perception may be colored by personal experience, family history, or some knowledge and insight that we possess. The other people also have compelling reasons that are driving their perception.

Remember that on November 4 (or whenever the election results are finalized) we still have to share our lives and our society with the other folks. Let us not poison our ability to do so. Concerning Torah Proverbs (3:18) states, “Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.” May we indeed have Shalom!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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