Minutes of Torah
Disagreements on Facebook — Never happens!
There may be no question more pressing for us as a society than this one: How do we disagree? From state legislatures to social media, from college campuses to family dinner tables, we seem to be suffering from an inability to sit with difference. It appears we have developed a dangerous cultural habit of trying to eliminate ideas, attitudes, and people that trigger emotional distress brought about by disagreement.
Of course, we all try to avoid unnecessary pain. But we also accept that living means bearing the slings and arrows of existence, which are simply a part of life.
But how do we sit with the discomfort someone else may be causing us because of their opinions or views? Likewise, how do we sit with the knowledge of the discomfort that someone else experiences because of our words or beliefs? (Oh, you had not thought that happens?)
And how do we avoid reacting emotionally, and instead responding wisely?
These questions come to mind in reading this week’s parashat Korach. In an excerpt from the Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, the rabbis identify the paradigm of what is an unhealthy disagreement:
“Every argument that is for the sake of Heaven is destined to prove constructive. But if it is not for the sake of Heaven — it is not destined to prove constructive. What is an example of an argument for the sake of Heaven? The argument of Hillel and Shammai. What is an example of an argument not for the sake of Heaven? The argument of Korach and all of his followers.”
Regarding the controversy which is for the sake of Heaven, its sole purpose is to arrive at the truth. But regarding a controversy which is not for the sake of Heaven: its purpose is to achieve power and for the love of victory, with the actual substantive result being relatively meaningless. This is as we find in the dispute of Korach and his band, as their aim was a lust for honor and power.
That is straightforward enough, yet it still leaves us asking: What are the actual habits and practices that we might develop that would enable us to sit with discomfort when we are tied up in a personal disagreement, much less a public one like those of Hillel and Shammai, or of Korach and Moses?
This lesson is intended to lift our communal discourse. The advent of social media has given a microphone and a venue to those who shout rather than listen, who react rather than respond, and who seek to disrespect and divide rather than dignify and embrace. In turn, others often seem to feel pressured to pick a side; rather than their preference to contribute in a more productive way of engaging with other people.
In formulating our thoughts on social media platforms, let’s try not to be guided by the words and images we might initially find shocking or inflammatory. There is nothing wrong in understanding our reaction to these words; and noticing any pressures being unfairly imposed upon us. But, with that realization, give yourselves the time and space to listen to the response that you want to make, that reflects your ‘voice,’ or the Divine voice within you.
And before you respond, you might want to ask yourself: Why do I want to respond, what do I hope to accomplish? And is this in alignment with the values that I claim to espouse?
Will my response feed more fuel to the fire — no good; or shed more light to the underlying issue — good!
Is it grounded in compassion, or in something else like judgment?
And, if this really is so important, what might be other ways that could contribute to reaching the level of truth.
This practice need not be limited to our intellectual faculties. Our own body aids in this process. If we select a proposed course of action and our gut is still saying to us, “Nah, this isn’t quite right,” we listen because it’s most often another way we experience God calling to us. And when, at last, our body is at peace with an idea for speech or action, we find that we can bring greater peace to the overall conversation.
This is not some radically new concept. Indeed, it is radically old, as old as Shammai and Hillel some 2,000 years ago. But in a culture that is filled with disputes not for the sake of Heaven, we are called to respond in a way that nurtures shalom, peace,in ourselves and in the world.
Shabbat Shalom to a dispute-less Shabbat!