America Needs a Revolution… of Trust and Appreciation

I feel more than ever that we are living in a post-Original Sin world, a world of “tov va’ra,” a world of good and evil. According to the Rambam, before Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they lived in a world of truth and falsehood.  They had an innate sense, an objective knowledge of truths and falsehoods.  But after the sin, they found themselves as we do, in a world of subjective knowledge of good and evil, where concepts of good and evil were confused.

And I find this more than ever in America today. Americans saw the exact same testimony and were exposed to the exact same facts in the Judge Kavanaugh hearing, but we all drew opposite conclusions on matters that shouldn’t be dependent on our political worldview.  Was Judge Kavanaugh’s angry testimony evidence that he doesn’t have the temperament to become a Supreme Court Justice or was it justifiable on the whole for someone whose entire reputation and stellar thirty plus year career was being smeared because of politics, if he was truly innocent?  What is the burden of proof necessary for allegations of a crime in order to rise to a lifetime appointment of the highest court in the United States?  Does the sincerity and vulnerability make Dr. Ford’s story credible, even in the absence of a second witness?  Did the Democrats deceitfully leak Dr. Ford’s allegations only at the last minute in a cruel political ploy?  Did the Republicans deceitfully limit the scope of the FBI’s supplemental investigation instead of leaving no stone unturned in their investigation?

I understand where the politicians are coming from in their attacks on the other party.  They are obviously motivated by political considerations, such as the upcoming midterm elections.  But ordinary Americans pride ourselves on being intelligent, open-minded, nuanced thinkers.  Despite this, half of us looked at a situation and drew one conclusion and half of us looked at the same situation and drew the opposite conclusion.  Even more alarming, we are all so convinced that we are right and they are wrong.  This is an issue that should be unrelated to political philosophy, and yet, we are all so colored in how we view the facts before us.

We are suffering from fundamental attribution error, which is how we tend to process negative information about others in a fundamentally different way from how we would interpret identical information about ourselves.  For example, a Democrat saying that the Republicans intentionally hindered the FBI investigation but the Democrats would not have intentionally leaked Dr. Ford’s testimony to the press and vice-versa.  We are suffering from confirmation bias, which is the tendency we have to believe more readily that which is consistent with our previously formed opinions and to discount information that is contradictory to these beliefs.  If before these allegations of sexual assault I believed that Justice Kavanaugh should be nominated to the Supreme Court then I will give more credibility to facts that support that position and less to facts that do not support that position and vice-versa.  What’s fascinating is that psychological studies have shown we are often blind to these biases that we have.  We think that we are completely objective when we are not, because we live in a world of “tov va’ra,” and not in a world of “emet” and “sheker,” truth and falsehood.

And why do we live in this world of “tov va’ra?” Because the forbidden fruit is appealing.  Because our leaders see the promise of “v’hiyitem k’Elokim yodei tov va’ra.”  We want to be like God, we want power, we have lofty goals and we want society to reflect our goals and values.  We are convinced that we are right, so we don’t even consider the possibility that the other perspective has merit.  And this hyper-partisan world of “tov va’ra” is tearing down sacred institutions that we have always held dear, such as the Supreme Court and the Senate.  It is ripping apart our country.  How do we stop the bleeding?

Perhaps the place to start is to take a cue from Adam. After God curses and punishes him, Adam names his wife Chava because she is the mother of all the living. This is a very unusual act by Adam. After all, he must have been furious at his wife for tempting him to eat the forbidden fruit which brought death into the world.  In fact, when God asked him why he ate the forbidden fruit, he blamed his wife.  Why now does he give her a name?

In his Sefer Oznayim LaTorah, Rav Sorotzkin explained that at this time of adversity, when Adam was upset at his wife, he reminded himself why she was so great, because she is the Matriarch of the world, and all future generations will come from her.  Once he did that in naming her, he was ready to rebuild his relationship with her even at this very difficult time.

Perhaps this is the first step that we must all take at this time.  We can hate the views of a political party because we sharply disagree on social issues, economic issues and immigration issues, but this cycle of suspicion and distrust and “gotcha” is wreaking havoc on society.  The unrelenting insistence that “it’s their fault and not my fault!” simply must stop.  At this moment, we need to shift to the other extreme.   We need to be able to say to the other, “I honestly appreciate your perspective even though I may ultimately disagree with you.”  We need more than ever to name the other Chava.  We must move ourselves to appreciate what we have in common, to see the value in their positions and give them the benefit of the doubt, and to stop thinking the worst of their motivations.  America needs to create a grassroots revolution of trust and appreciation in this country, and we shouldn’t wait for the “other” to be the one to start.  We must start the revolution.  Only once we start this revolution of trust and appreciation can we begin to swing the pendulum back from a world of “tov va’ra” to a world of “emet” and “sheker.”

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.