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Hot Buttons, Human Predators, and the Wisdom of Solomon

Six are those things which HaShem hates, and seven are an abomination of His Soul: Arrogant eyes, A tongue of deception, Hands pouring out innocent blood, A heart devising plans of wickedness, Feet hurrying to run to evil, A false witness uttering lies, And constantly spreading strife among brothers.[i]

We all have our hot buttons. A “hot button” is “an emotional and usually controversial issue or concern that triggers immediate intense reaction.”[ii] It might be a strongly felt religious belief, a deeply held political opinion, or an intense empathetic response to human suffering. When our hot buttons are pushed, we react strongly, because we are defending what is important to us, what we hold dear.

Deceptively, there are some in the media who are embedding hot buttons in news items to generate a response that makes us more susceptible to absorb misinformation without questioning its validity. They have a wicked wisdom that enables them to create narratives (like movie-scripts) that include strategically placed hot buttons throughout their stories, so that when certain aspects of their stories are illogical or unlikely, our capacity to identify the falsehoods is hampered by an emotional reaction to the hot buttons embedded in the story. Then, if we identify the false aspects of their narratives, we are shunned and shamed by false narrative cronies whose job it is to point out our insensitivity to the hot button issue. Typically, the shaming response is: “How dare you question the validity of this story given the human suffering/ religious belief / political view (fill in the blank) that is present in the story!”

Seeking only their own gain, media manipulators do not care how their lies cause damage to individuals, to societies, and to nations. All that matters to them is that their audience reacts emotionally instead of rationally. All that matters is that we become anxious, angry, and aggressive toward each other, while they distract us and implement their hidden agenda via corrupt politicians, thereby generating wealth for themselves and the masters whom they serve. These schemers seek to weaken us, so that they can prey on us. Tragically, they have allowed themselves to become human predators.

While some of these predators have become rich and famous and openly spread their falsehoods, others hide behind anonymous posts via social media. Either way, they conceal their actual agenda and point fingers at others. Whenever someone calls them out for what they are doing, they dramatically declare themselves to be either heroes or victims, who are only standing up for the “truth”. When liars are confronted by the facts, their voices become shrill and loud as they simultaneously put on the mask of false indignation. Then they attack the one who presents reality. Predators are experts in gaslighting. They are well-trained actors who deflect and project.

The constant gaslighting and monstrous lies have made many of us weary, and we can become exhausted by the enormity of the false narratives to the point that we lose sight of real problems that we should be addressing. For example, instead of focusing our attention on how the Covid pandemic began and the logistical aspects of addressing a world-wide pandemic (so that we are better equipped to handle another pandemic), we are being encouraged to be outraged at those who dared to wear a mask (or not) or to become vaccinated (or not), making it seem as though our neighbor has been the real problem in this pandemic.

The current situation must change, because there are many life altering issues that we need to address now, such as climate change, food production, energy creation, adequate health care, and matters of war and peace. But how can we rationally deliberate on issues and come to solid conclusions with so much misleading information clouding our judgment? How can we think rationally about an urgent matter when information about the issue is ladened with hot buttons?

In my view, it is beneficial to turn to sources of insight concerning how to determine truth, and one such resource is the wisdom of Solomon. Born the son of King David and Bathsheba, Solomon became king of Israel in approximately 967 BCE.[iii] During his reign, he had numerous accomplishments including the building of the Temple in Jerusalem and the establishment of trade with other nations, which created the context for calm co-existence with neighboring nations. Most of his reign was marked by peace and prosperity. While known throughout the Ancient Near East for his wealth, it was his wisdom that captured the attention of other countries, as can be seen in the following passage from the book of 1 Kings: “King Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth concerning wealth and wisdom. Therefore, all the earth was seeking the presence of Solomon, in order to hear his wisdom, which G-d had placed in his heart.”[iv]

What can we learn from Solomon that might be helpful for us today? How did he discern the truth? Below are three helpful examples and a warning drawn from the life and teachings of Solomon.

First, when Solomon became king of Israel, he was humble enough to recognize that he did not have all the answers. Notice the following passage in which Solomon asks G-d for wisdom at the beginning of his kingship:

And now, HaShem my G-d, certainly You have made Your servant to reign in place of my father David. But I am a young lad. I do not know how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a numerous people who are too many to be numbered or counted. So give Your servant a listening heart to judge Your people, to discern between good and evil. For who is capable of judging this intense people of Yours?[v]

Humility opens our minds to receive information that might be uncomfortable and even contrary to what we initially thought was the truth. Instead of reacting emotionally to hot buttons in news sources, we can humbly seek for the truth by praying to G-d for wisdom and by doing the hard work of reading well researched articles written by journalists, scientists, historians, and scholars with expertise in relevant fields. While this will take time, open-minded exploration will enable us to sort through the misinformation, filter out the hot buttons, and identify what the relevant information is so that we can make solid decisions. Humility is a firm foundation for seeking the truth.

Second, when faced with conflicting testimonies about a matter, Solomon put witnesses to the test in terms of their capacity for human care and decency. Consider the following account of King Solomon who had to evaluate the testimony of two women with conflicting views about the loss of a baby:

Then two women who were prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. The one woman said, “Pardon me, my lord, I and this woman are dwelling in one house, and I gave birth with her in the house. And it happened on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth, and we were together. There was no stranger with us in the house, only the two of us in the house. Then the son of this woman died in the night, because she laid on him. So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from beside me while your maidservant was asleep, and she laid him at her bosom, and laid her dead son at my bosom. When I arose in the morning to nurse my son, behold, he was dead! But when I examined him closely in the morning, behold, he was not my son, whom I had borne!” Then the other woman said, “No! Rather, my son is the living one, and your son is the dead one.” But the first woman said, “No! Rather, your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.” So they disputed before the king. Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son who is living, and your son is the dead one’; and the other says, ‘No! Rather your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.’” And the king said, “Bring to me a sword.” So they brought a sword before the king. Then the king said, “Cut the living boy in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” But the woman whose son was the living one spoke to the king, because her compassions grew intensely concerning her son, and she said, “Pardon me, my lord! Give to her the living child, and certainly do not kill him!” But the other one was saying, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; cut him in two!” Then the king answered and said, “Give to the first woman the living child, and certainly do not kill him. She is his mother.” When all Israel heard about the judgment which the king had rendered, they feared the presence of the king, because they saw that the wisdom of G-d was in him to do justice.[vi]

Notice that the testimony by both women in the story contains intensity and emotion, potential hot buttons that might activate Solomon to lean one direction or the other. However, instead of being swayed by emotional arguments, Solomon listened carefully to both women, and then he responded with a directive that exposed their true agendas. Solomon’s command to cut the baby in half created a reaction in both women, revealing the love and care of the true mother as well as the harshness and lack of compassion of the one who was lying. It is not surprising that the concepts of love and truth are complementary, because when we love others, we do not want to mislead them or deceive them. Caring for others is the context for telling the truth.

Third, Solomon learned in his life that some people can become so calloused to the truth, that it is impossible to reason with them. In such instances, Solomon’s advice is to disengage from them when it comes to determining the truth of a matter. For example, consider the following words of Solomon as given in the book of Proverbs:

One who loves discipline loves knowledge,
But one who hates correction is senseless.[vii]
One who corrects a scoffer receives dishonor for himself,
And one who rebukes a wicked person receives his blemish.
Do not rebuke a scoffer, lest he will hate you;
Rebuke a wise person, and he will love you.
Give to a wise person, and he will become still wiser;
Give knowledge to a righteous person, and he will increase learning.[viii]

If the goal is to know the truth about an issue, then reasonable people can become convinced by a rational argument even if they initially had a different point of view. However, those who have a hidden agenda are not interested in the truth, and therefore, they do not allow logic to apply. Moreover, they care more about their own ego than caring for their neighbor. When certain commentators in the media consistently demonstrate an incapacity to admit when they are wrong, then they should be disregarded when it comes to viable public discourse. Scoffers hinder the pursuit for truth and must be avoided.

While the early kingship and teachings of Solomon provide us with helpful advice concerning discerning the truth, the later part of his kingship delivers a warning. Despite our best efforts to be people who humbly seek the truth, we must be diligent, because no one is immune from the disease of deception. If we do not maintain our diligence, we can stumble into a place of blindness, falling off our pathway, which happened to Solomon toward the end of his life, as reflected in the following passage from 1 Kings:

King Solomon loved many foreign women …  from the nations of which HaShem had said to the sons of Israel, “You shall not go among them, and they shall not go among you; surely they will cause your heart to turn away after their gods.” But Solomon clung to love with them. He had seven hundred wives, who were princesses, and three hundred concubines…, and it happened when Solomon was old, his wives caused his heart to turn away after other gods. So his heart was not at peace with HaShem, his G-d, as the heart of his father David….  So Solomon did evil in the sight of HaShem, and did not follow HaShem fully, as his father David had done.[ix]

As can be seen from the above passage, Solomon’s downfall was due to taking his focus off the commandments in the Torah. As it states in the Midrash Exodus Rabbah, “When there is not in someone’s hand the words of the Torah, he finds transgression and stumbles on it and dies… But with a lamp in his hand, he sees a stone, and he does not stumble. He sees a gutter and he does not fall….For the commandment is a lamp, and the Torah is a light.”[x] Since there are many false sources of information creating darkness in our world, it is imperative that we keep the light shining in our souls via the daily study of the Torah, thereby protecting ourselves against false idols that will hinder our pursuit of the truth.

Given the proliferation of false information and the urgent need to make rational decisions about pressing issues of the day, it is time for good people everywhere to take a stand for honesty by: 1) rejecting hot button media outlets created by human predators; and 2) wisely seeking the truth like King Solomon did in his early years. Through concentrated effort and good intention, we can create a context for civil discourse in which important matters are openly debated by those possessing the necessary knowledge, humility, and human decency to arrive at the truth concerning issues that affect us all.

[i] Proverbs 6:16-19. All English translations from the Tanak in this article are my own translations, and I translate the Divine Name as HaShem, which means “The Name” in Hebrew.

[ii] Hot button Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster

[iii] King Solomon (jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

[iv] 1 Kings 10:23-24.

[v] 1 Kings 3:7-9.

[vi] 1 Kings 3:16-28.

[vii] Proverbs 12:1.

[viii] Proverbs 9:7-9.

[ix] 1 Kings 11:1-4, 6.

[x] This is my translation of a portion of Exodus Rabbah 36:3.

About the Author
After he earned his Ph.D. in Scripture, Stephen S. Carver taught at a small college in the USA for over 20 years. The classes he taught included: Hebrew Scripture, Biblical Hebrew, Ancient Judaism, Koine Greek, Religious and Philosophical Foundations for Ethical Practice, and Introduction to Peace Studies. He has presented many papers at scholarly conferences and has had two books published. He and his wife made Aliyah in November 2019.
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