Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011

The Madness We Need

by James Vrettos

Tikkun-building and a life built around that commitment has meant an openness to life's possibilities that continually enriches, enrages, and surprises those willing to take on this ongoing struggle. For me, it offers a chance to participate more fully in the inherent mystery of life, to live and experience it more fully and with an intense depth that I never thought was possible. I believe it is somewhat connected to what sociologists refer to as "latent functions" -- the hidden meanings or unintended consequences of our actions. To be a tikkun-builder you have to be open and willing to search for, analyze, and "go with" those hidden and unintended meanings -- grappling with their possible connotations and yet realizing you're never going to fully comprehend them.

Tikkun-building has led me, as a sociologist, to combine a social-scientific paradigm, a politics of meaning, and a commitment to movement-building of "ordinary" people in a paper that has led to panels at the Left Forum next spring. Hopefully, this will have some impact on a revitalized and transformative Left in contemporary America.

Tikkun-building was an integral part of my nine years of teaching at Yeshiva University, where as a nonobservant, secular Jew I used books and arguments to challenge and try to "heal" some of the intense hurts and fears that many of my students had. This openness to the tikkun experience enabled me to invite "refuseniks" such as a Palestinian physician who practiced at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem; the founder of the Parent's Circle (an organization of Israelis and Palestinians who support reconciliation and peace despite having lost members of their families during the Intifada); the founder of the Fortune Society (an organization at the forefront in helping ex-convicts stay out of prison); the information minister of the Latin Kings (the largest Latino street organization in New York); and Rabbi Lerner all to speak to generally curious and open students.

The tikkun process is what's engaging and important. It's what the final scene of the movie Zorba the Greek depicted as Zorba's grand plan to transport fallen trees to the beach comes tumbling down in ruins. As his friend and the boss of the project look on in shock and disbelief at the debacle, they slowly begin to laugh. As Zorba famously says to his boss, "You have everything but one thing: madness." The boss asks Zorba to teach him how to dance and they dance together to the mystery, joy, and beauty of the world -- realizing that this is the healing that is necessary to make life even more vital and that will allow them and us to feel even more alive to the awe and wonder of life.

It seems to me that anyone interested in living a life where they can feel this vitality and aliveness would be open to the tikkun process and a life committed to those ideals.

James S. Vrettos has taught sociology, criminology, and criminal justice at the City University of New York for twenty years. He coauthored the critically acclaimed text The Elementary Forms of Statistical Reason and has facilitated New York City's Tikkun Community organizing group.

Source Citation: Vrettos, James S. 2011. The Madness We Need. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive. 


tags: Spiritual Politics  
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