When I was a child we lived next door to a very evil woman. At least, that’s what my brothers and I believed. We knew she was evil because when a ball we were playing with sailed over the fence into her yard, she always refused to return it. She was apparently upset that balls from the neighbors’ kids kept landing, splat, right in the middle of her carefully cultivated garden.
What my brothers and I did not say is, “Here is a probably nice enough woman who is particularly sensitive about her garden.” In other words, we were kids, and we didn’t do nuance. She was bad, and that was that.
Such radical judgments are appropriate for children. By the time we are adults, however, we ought to be able to see virtue in people we disagree with or even dislike. When I hear liberals demonized by conservatives or conservatives demonized by liberals, I think sometimes of our neighbor. Is half the country really stupid, evil and boorish? Is there no room to understand the merit of those who disagree? If you have changed your own mind on something important, then you know how someone as smart and sensitive as you can think differently. How about together we tend our garden?
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).