There is a disturbing trend that is becoming ever more prevalent. It centers on disagreement. We have forgotten how to debate.
We surround ourselves with like-minded people. With the click of a mouse we can unfriend those with whom we disagree. We find it unwelcome to challenge ourselves with divergent opinions or when friends offer us critique. The measure of friendship today is twofold: loyalty and laudation. We only wish to hear the nodding of agreement.
Loving critique is banished from our screens. Honest disagreement is deleted from our inboxes.
Take but two recent examples. At last week’s LGBTQ pride parade in Chicago, several Jewish women who carried a rainbow colored flag with a Jewish star in its center were asked to leave. Why? Organizers told the women that the flag made people feel unsafe. The march is unabashedly anti-Zionist. The Jewish Star of David, they were told, is associated with the State of Israel. The official statement makes the Dyke March’s ideology even more clear: “Zionism is an inherently white-supremacist ideology. It is based on the premise that Jewish people have a God-given entitlement to the lands of historic Palestine and the surrounding areas.”
To say this is disturbing and offensive does not adequately characterize my feelings. It is antisemitic. It is moreover baffling that a group who advocates inclusion and tolerance would be so blatantly intolerant and exclusive. More importantly this event represents a wider trend. These are today’s mantras. “I don’t like your views. I don’t share your opinions. We cannot stand side by side. We cannot sit in the same room.” Safety has now become synonymous with agreement. Right and left are both to blame.
Equally disturbing was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent decision to shelve the proposed egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. In siding with the ultra-Orthodox parties Netanyahu disenfranchised much of diaspora Jewry. In voting against Jewish pluralism he further alienated the majority of secular Israelis who continue to want nothing to do with Jewish tradition because they find the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate oppressive and their Judaism unappealing.
Again, this is yet another example of the same phenomenon. “I will not allow you to practice your Jewish faith as you find meaningful; it can only be done my way,” are the messages we hear. Natan Sharansky has rightly said that the Western Wall belongs to the entire Jewish people and that all Jews should be allowed to pray there as they are accustomed. The compromise that was hammered out, and now rejected by Netanyahu, even allowed for distance between the ultra-Orthodox prayer space and that of Reform and Conservative Jews.
This was not enough for ultra-Orthodox leaders. There is no room for divergent opinions within their world view. To allow Jews like ourselves to pray as we do here on Long Island would make them feel unsafe. It is threatening. And so they banish ideas and practices that are different than their own. They even attempt to confiscate our prayer books. (This is what they tried to do to my friends and me last summer.)
Likewise President Trump labels those who are critical of him or those who disagree with him or those who challenge him with the refrain, “Fake News.” He does not engage with their ideas. He does not debate divergent ideologies. Instead he tweets epithets. Ad hominem attacks are his trademark.
Leadership is strengthened by engaging with a diversity of opinions.
It is an art, and an imperfect one at that, to learn how to debate, how to disagree, and even more importantly how to offer critique and most important of all, accept criticism. We no longer truly know how to speak with each other. We no longer know how to listen to each other. We construct for ourselves private echo chambers of agreement. “How right I am,” we confirm again and again as we scroll through our Facebook timelines. Look at all the likes.
This week we learn that the greatest of all leaders, Moses, is punished. God will not allow him to see his dream fulfilled. He will not touch the Promised Land. Despite 40 years of putting up with the complaining Israelites, staring down the powerful Pharaoh and spending 40 days and nights communing with God, he does not get the promised reward.
The people complain about the lack of water. Moses gets angry. He hits a rock.
Most people think that it is because of his anger that he is punished. And while he admittedly has some anger issues, this is not his sin. It is instead that he distances himself from the people he leads. He calls them names. He shouts, “Listen, you rebels!” (Numbers 20)
He is punished because he lost patience with the people. He could not open his heart to their critique.
How can anyone survive without water?
How can we truly be safe without making room for disagreement and debate?