To My Dear Sons,
Like many religious parents, we tried to go entirely without television and movies in the house for a while. When we discovered that you preferred spending all of your time at your religious friends’ houses — watching TV — we decided we had better reintroduce the evil demon into our home, so that we could at least occasionally participate in your upbringing. There was also some hope that we could monitor what you watched, and give that running parental commentary that is the recording all children play as subtitles under the moving pictures of their lives.
When you were small, we wouldn’t let you watch videos that were too violent or too promiscuous. Like most parents, I think. But we also wouldn’t let you watch programs that were too sarcastic or disrespectful of adults, authority, or even other children.
As you got older, you were allowed movies with some violence. The world is not a peaceful place. Bad guys abound. But we always asked you to root for the good guys. ”Good must always defeat evil” was the mental recording we tried to upload into your little brains.
Now, thank G-d and your own good judgment, you are all heroes, who try to vanquish evil, from the enemies of Israel to the apparently lesser evils of bad sportsmanship, cheating in business, fighting among fellow Jews.
When you were older still, we stopped rigorously forbidding programs that included male and female relationships. But there was always that tape in the background that reminded you that shallow relationships were beneath your viewing pleasure, and that women and men are not objects, but souls on legs, to be honored and respected.
Now, thank G-d, you are fine young men who treat women with the same tender respect that your dear father shows to me. Those of you who are married know how to be gentle and thoughtful husbands. Those who are beginning to look for their soulmates have reputations for respect for women within your young communities.
Throughout your childhood and teens, we never ceased to forbid programs that were sarcastic or mean toward other human beings. This seemed to you at times extreme. Weren’t sex and violence much worse crimes than sarcasm? We explained that society’s general agreement that murder and illicit relationships are not acceptable (combined with the teachings in a Torah-observant community, and tons of parental prayer) would reduce the likelihood that you would be wanton murderers.
But the danger that certain movies and television programs might encourage you to show disrespect to parents, teachers, rabbis, policemen, each other — this concern never left us. In it’s way, as we are taught by our Sages, words and attitudes can be as deadly as weapons.
King David begins his famous Psalms with a reminder of the pernicious danger of negative speech: ”Praiseworthy is the man that walked not in the counsel of the wicked, and stood not in the path of the sinful, and sat not in the session of scorners.” Avoiding wickedness and sin seem obvious. But “scorning”? What’s the big deal?
As we learned through years of observation, scorn and sarcasm destroy marriages, diminish children’s self esteem, undermine holiness and healthy messages. We wanted to protect you from lives that perpetrated that kind of destruction.
Now, thank G-d, you are young men who know how to be playful without cruelty, and who know that words must be chosen carefully, as the penalty of a poor choice is as harsh as any weapon. I bless you that you will remember the lesson, and will be careful of the feelings of those around you.
Being clever and witty works for about five minutes, and may be amusing for a prime time season. Being kind builds lives.
TV graphic by luckydogblue.