Friday, November 30, 2012

The Heat Is On

Shalom, chaverim! We seem to be dodging not only the literal bullets that were flying around Israel and Gaza just a week ago, but also the "bullet" of bad weather, which is lovely. As Elul and I enter our twelfth month of living in Israel, the weather is still generally very beautiful and warm. The grass is still green, we are still wearing shorts for our daily walks along the beach, and while it does get somewhat chilly at night now, we've only had to turn on the heater once so far. I can still ride my bicycle to work without wearing gloves in the morning, although I keep them handy in my basket just in case. Not bad for it being just a day away from the start of December!

Speaking of heat, as I have watched the rhetoric fly around, thick and fast, most recently about the Palestine/Israel problem here and the Obama/Romney divide in America, it has caused me to reflect more deeply on the issue of anger and conflict. Humans have always argued with each other, but until recently I never paid too much attention to how they did it. I have been paying particular attention, however, to how people try to convince other people to agree with them. Agreement about what, it doesn't matter, as people will argue about anything under the sun.

Some try to do it by reasoning and logical arguments, only to become infuriated when the recipient of these "change your mind so you agree with me" campaigns, frequently played out in public forums like Facebook, are countered by equally well-reasoned and logical arguments. And instead of agreeing to disagree and dropping the subject, people harshly judge their friends for their opinions and freeze them out of their lives, preferring only to interact with "like-minded" people. Mind you, many of the people with these incredibly strong convictions about how the world should operate actually do very little work to affect any positive or lasting change. It is far easier to sit and criticize, while pretending to contribute to change simply by pleading with other people to change their minds. No wonder it's a popular pastime.

Others try to do it by hedging their outright disagreement with others, by using modifiers like "I don't think you're bad for thinking the way you do, just misguided." Or, "you seem to be confusing your opinion with what I know is true." For me, the biggest howler of these dodges is, "I'm not judging you, but...." If you disagree with someone, why not say so? Why make it more clouded by pretending you're not upset if you actually are?

Still others try to do it with outright attacks and gross generalizations. I have both heard and read the insults "Idiots," "morons," "a**holes," and "real mother f***ers" to everyone who votes for a particular party or candidate, or has a divergent opinion on how problems could be solved. We're talking about calling millions of people terrible names, in one fell swoop. We are cursing our fellow man, many of whom devote their lives to public service (e.g. firemen, policemen, soldiers, teachers, nurses, doctors, and the clergy) by these statements. We, as a human race, often talk about how killing lots of people who don't live where we live, or believe as we do, as being a good idea. "Reasoning" doesn't work, so we resort to threats of violence, and then, finally, to acts of violence. Is it any wonder so many parts of the world are struggling with the effects of anger and rage? Why do we get angry at people who are angry at us, but still feel quite entitled to feel angry at others?

Bo Lozoff, who, with his wife Sita, founded the Human Kindness Foundation, eloquently put this phenomena into a song. A portion of the lyrics, reprinted in the HKF's Fall 2012 newsletter, go like this.

From the song “Everybody’s Angry” by Bo Lozoff, © 2005
Big man’s angry knowing big don’t count,
Little man’s angry ’cause he hasn’t found it out.
Poor man’s angry he can’t have it today,
Rich man’s angry he ain’t happy anyway. …
Even Jesus was angry at the moneychanger’s sin,
The moneychanger’s angry right back at him.
Anger, anger, everywhere I see,
Everybody seems to be angry to me,
Anger, anger at the drop of a hat.
Well it makes me angry and I don’t like that.
Also from that extraordinary newsletter was a quote from "Richard," an inmate in Maury, North Carolina, who reflected,

"The first step for me is accepting that the outside world is not the problem—my own selfish delusions about how life should be and how others should act is the cause of my anger."

Indeed. Yom Kippur is over, but it's never a bad time to reflect on how our anger just might be a reflection of our own selfishness. Look at it this way, if you forgive yourself and others, and stop cursing them with your mouth, your pen, and in your heart, it's just that much less you'll need to atone for. Plus, you'll feel a lot better and be much more pleasant to hang around.

And so, while all the human rage continues to sputter and strut itself around the place, the flowers still bloom. The birds sing, children play and run for the sheer joy of it, and cats nap peacefully in the sunshine, content with a warm patch of cement on the sidewalk. Israel is still a beautiful land and the world is still a beautiful home for us all. Don't let anger, whether of others or your own, ever make you forget that.

"What, me kvetch?" A cool cat hanging out on a street side wall in Zikhron Yaakov.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

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