As enlightening as it is to learn from opposing arguments, sometimes it is necessary to simply consider enjoying oneself at the expense of a crazy individual or two. Sometimes, we have to remember, if we take people too seriously, we will just go crazy. In those situations, we should seek to find enjoyment and humour in tasks such as speaking with those who are so far off the beaten path, they won’t even recognize their own humanity.
Recently, I had the opportunity to engage with the gentleman sitting outside on the White House Lawn, protesting violence, ecological issues and the like. Of course, here I use the terms gentleman and opportunity loosely, but the following is how the conversation went based on the recording that I took at the time. In the following, I have shortened the gist of the conversation, in order to provide a more readable version of a particularly religious discussion of events.
“Hello”, I said to the man sitting outside the White House in front of signs calling for peace “I love your display of peace, but I have one chief problem with it my friend. I love that you support environmental reform, civil discourse and positivity, and the functions of democracy, but I am confused by one sign in particular”.
“What do you want?”, the man asked relatively angrily, but fairly, considering the time was approximately 1 am.
“Well my friend, I was curious because I too support so many of your causes. Do you support funding life saving drugs for aids and cancer patients? Do you support environmental reform and providing water security technology to the globalizing world? Do you believe in the morality of providing life saving heart surgery to children across the world who can’t afford it for free? Do you feel empowered by the right to protest and occupy the space outside the White House by the right of our Constitution? Do you support democracy, freedom, justice, and equality? Do you support socialism and the right of people to govern themselves in small farming communities or even across the nation?”.
Needless to say, he answered yes to all of my questions. Yet, when I explained to him that all of those questions to which he stood proudly in support of related to Israel, his tone changed. No longer was he willing to support these causes. Now, his only concern was taxes that most likely he doesn’t pay considering his tenured occupation of the lawn for the past 2+ years, and his unwillingness to engage in discussion. When he realized what I was saying, the conversation turn hostile. At least one one side.
“My friend”, I tried to say with kindness before I left, “My name is Seth Greenwald and I am a junior studying Law and Politics at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. It has been a pleasure speaking with you tonight, but I must go to bed now, my friends are waiting. Before I go, what is your name? I’d love to possibly get your email and talk further about your beliefs”.
Unfortunately, the man lacked the same compassion I wanted to share with him, and instead responded: “I don’t matter. I am a volunteer. I am simply here for the cause”.
When I tried to inform him that of course he mattered, if he didn’t, I wouldn’t waste my time speaking with him that evening, he handed me a pamphlet filled with lies written by the Neturi Karta and told me that these were the true Jews.
This pamphlet was filled with such beautiful statements as: “The so-called state of ‘Israel’ will fall G-d willing rather than stand in the way of Jewish unity before the Messiah.” And, “‘[Israel’] is directly in opposition to true Jewish values and jewish history.
At this point, I realized, I had to reevaluate my night. Was this simply a waste of time to engage with a clearly delusional man swayed by propaganda and lies? Or did I project myself as a human being, attempting to spread Israel’s goodness to even the most lost of people? I chose to believe the latter. Its more empowering.
Besides, even if I didn’t change anything, its always good to find humor in the fact that some people are more swayed by propaganda than humanity. In those situations, all we can say is, Hakunna, Mattata.