My recent blog, The Case for Radical Decency, brought the following provocative reaction – the subject of this week’s reflection:
“If ‘picking and choosing’ where to practice Radical Decency is ‘doomed to failure’ does that mean only saints can succeed? How does one incrementally improve?”
“If Radical Decency is doomed to failure unless applied at all times to everything, must I be a Buddhist monk or the equivalent?”
(Credit: Creative Commons)
How this Mindset Traps and Defeats Us
Radical Decency seeks to diverge from the culture’s wildly out of balance emphasis on competitive, win/lose values, advocating a decisive shift in priority toward a more humane set of values. That is its central purpose.
With this in mind, notice the extent to which this self-judgmental approach replicates the very values the philosophy seeks to replace. Tally up the evidence and make a judgment: Have I succeeded in being radically decent – or not? Am I a saint – or a failure?
Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard famously said, “Once you label me you negate me.” But despite this, it seems that as human beings, we love labels. We spend much of our lives labeling not just others but ourselves as well. Skin color, race, education level, professional qualifications… you name it, we’ve got it and using it with gusto. Some labels – like doctor, author, white person – we apply on ourselves with pride, while others – black, dropout, druggie – are pasted on our psyches by others without our consent. It’s also an undeniable fact that labels, positive and negative, lead to stereotypes more frequently than they lead to motivation or greater self-esteem. Yet we continue to label ourselves and others without regard for consequences. A particularly dangerous label in the current national political and cultural situation is religion. As a culture we have started looking at people through “God glasses” – asking people what they believe in, assuming their religious preference based on their accent, color and most importantly their dress. It’s no longer a private matter, and it almost always results in discrimination.
by: Ian Hoffman on October 8th, 2013 | Comments Off
(Credit: Creative Commons)
At the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, I met and later dated a Swedish woman. She was tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and older than me, but none of this mattered much in the giddy and stuffed atmosphere that was the festival’s after-party, at the Swedish American House (actually, she had gotten her tickets through a friend working at that house). Like me, she was delighted to be at a party that was in many ways an imitation of a big Hollywood bash – standing in line, for instance, next to the actress we had just watched onscreen.
A hundred years back, none of this would have been possible. Jews were mostly living in fringe communities spread across Europe or, if not, we were relegated to second-class citizenship within cities plush with anti-Semitism. This is all old hat, but sometimes being a Jew in the twenty-first century makes it easy to forget how lucky we are.
We can meet and date Swedish women who might have once thought us anathema. We once would have thought them untouchable.
That’s why the movie I most enjoyed at the film festival – Nono, the Zigzag Kid – was not particularly Jewish. Rather, it was about how Judaism has faded into the background of life; for so many of us, it is not a distinguishing mark anymore. And yet that does not mean that we’re not Jewish.
Religious accommodation in the workplace seems to be gaining strength in recent times. Last month, corporate America received a huge setback as retail giant Abercrombie and Fitch was found by a federal judge to have discriminated against a Muslim clerk who wore a hijab to work and was subsequently fired. While that story took the nation, especially American Muslim circles by storm, I refrained from writing about it for the simple reason that there didn’t seem much else to say. A court of law of the United States had already given a powerful message that American Muslims, with our infinite rituals and practices, were part of the fabric of American life and deserved equal treatment under the law. What more could anyone add? Yet here I am less than a month later, writing about this landmark case, not to state the obvious but because it seems that this case may have set some sort of precedent for religious accommodation.
by: Ada Glustein on October 3rd, 2013 | 6 Comments »
Exciting days in Vancouver! Six local groups recently formed the Palestine Awareness Coalition, coming together to present the now famous four-map poster showing “Disappearing Palestine.” The posters have appeared in several US cities, including New York and San Francisco. They are now on 15 city buses and at one (soon to be two) SkyTrain stations. The coalition was extremely glad to be working together with other groups for this effort. Each group has its own mandate and approaches the issues of Israel-Palestine in different ways, but all groups had the common desire for the public to be made more aware of the ever-diminishing land for Palestinians since 1946. All groups recognized that awareness is the seed that is needed for the plant to sprout and for any positive action to flourish. A grassroots fundraising campaign took place to pay for an initial four weeks of the mural display, and we were thrilled with the response and appreciative of the transit authority and ad-makers for agreeing to post the maps.
by: Kelsey Waxman on September 30th, 2013 | Comments Off
(Credit: Creative Commons/ Jstreet.org)
Saturday night, 2800 Jewish Americans and their domestic and international allies congregated in Washington, DC to begin the 4th annual J Street National Conference. J Street, founded in 2008, is a Jewish-American political advocacy organization that markets itself as “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace.” The organization, which also runs its own PAC (Political Action Committee), presents a vision for security and stability in Israel/Palestine through its lobbying in the form of an American-brokered two-state solution. This year’s conference, entitled “Our Time to Lead,” features three days of panels hosted and moderated by American, Israeli, and Palestinian speakers from diverse professional backgrounds. culminating in an “Advocacy Day” in which conference delegates will disperse throughout Capitol Hill to meet with Congressional representatives to lobby for the passing of political policies that they support. The conference will also include a keynote address from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
I don’t know H. Adam Ackley, the professor of theology at Christian Azusa Pacific University who was recently fired after coming out as transgender after teaching there for fifteen years, but having gone through my own difficult coming-out experience at Yeshiva University, I can imagine some of what Professor Ackley is going through.
Dr. H. Adam Ackley tells his students for the first time of his transgender identity. He had just written his name on the board. Credit: RNS/Annie Z. Yu.
Unlike Yeshiva University, Azusa doesn’t grant tenure. If I hadn’t received tenure before coming out, I am sure that like Professor Ackley, I would have been terminated, and for similar reasons. Some may think that religious universities are driven in this regard by fear of God, but there is no verse in the Bible in which God says, “Thou shalt not employ a transgender professor.” No, religious universities, like secular organizations that fire transgender employees, are acting out of fear of human beings: fear that students won’t register for classes with a transgender professor; fear of parents, who might send their children and tuition elsewhere; and fear, above all, of alienating alumni and other donors whose contributions keep the lights on and the doors open.
Radical Decency is a comprehensive approach to living. It is not about feeling better – or about treating others more decently – or about saving the world. It is about all of these things. The reason? We are profoundly creatures of habit and, as a result, each area of living is deeply and irrevocably intertwined with the others.
Thus, seeking to act differently at home but not at work, or in politics but not in our self-care, we fatally underestimate the extent to which the culture’s indecent values – its predominant habits of living – insinuate themselves into the overall texture of our lives. When we focus our healing efforts on a single area of living, these mainstream values, continuing to operate elsewhere without meaningful challenge, inexorably infiltrate and subvert our more limited islands of decency.
For this reason, healing needs to be “holistic”; a concept that many healers embrace, at least in principle. The problem, however, is that in most cases they fail to follow through on its implications.