Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

The connection between the president’s diagnosis and the high holidays

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows (R) watches as US President Donald Trump walks off Marine One while arriving at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland on October 2, 2020. - President Donald Trump will spend the coming days in a military hospital just outside Washington to undergo treatment for the coronavirus, but will continue to work, the White House said Friday (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows (R) watches as US President Donald Trump walks off Marine One while arriving at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland on October 2, 2020. - President Donald Trump will spend the coming days in a military hospital just outside Washington to undergo treatment for the coronavirus, but will continue to work, the White House said Friday (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

Even when I can connect irresponsible behavior to unfortunate outcomes, I do not gloat or find joy in anyone’s misfortune. And, in a somewhat ancillary way, I’d like to note (as anyone whose followed my blog over the last three years knows), I do not condone name-calling, rallying support for judging others or cancel culture, especially on social media. Though these statements stem from two separate occurrences, they are related issues and I will get to why in just a minute. One occurrence has to do with the headline-grabbing case of President Trump’s contraction of COVID-19 and second with some activity I’ve seen recently in some Facebook groups. My issue is with how people choose to react to each circumstance.

Regarding Trump, I recently shared on Facebook how I do believe that it “would be useful for the public…if his symptoms (and those of his inner circle, should any others turn positive) were sufficient to help him understand that COVID-19 is a real thing that doesn’t just affect those who are weak or old or infirm (that is, those I believe he sees as expendable). He needs to understand that even important people are not immune. Not because I expect him to gain any empathy, I don’t; it is not in him to feel empathy. But I would hope that this would help him see the usefulness of saying to his followers, ‘This is something you don’t want to have, believe me. It sucks. Everyone should wear a mask and keep your distance.’ And then maybe that part of the public which has been resistant would begin to practice safer behavior. We need this to go away and it won’t on its own. The virus will continue to spread as long as people who have it spread it, whether knowingly or unwittingly.”

Unfortunately since then, he’s decided that he needs to show he is strong and tough and in the process has endangered a photographer and anyone else in the room at Walter Reed Hospital for a staged photo, which actually showed him signing a blank piece of paper, and Secret Service agents so he could wave at supporters who instead should have been told to go home. While he cannot change his stripes, perhaps others can persuade him that this tack is hurting him in polls. And though I am disappointed that he does not take advantage of this opportunity to influence mask-wearing or social distancing, I can’t see expending energy on directing thoughts towards joy at his situation. Vindictiveness to me is purposeless, a waste of time and energy.

Regarding the second instance, I think I expressed it well three years ago today in my blog Judge everyone favorably. There I was speaking of the kinds of posts when someone shares how someone else wronged her and look for cheerleaders to say it is okay to behave hurtfully towards the offenders. It is not. Similarly, when people call out others by name and use derogatory words to describe their character (as opposed to their actions), I cringe. Posting how so-and-so is a such-and-such, in my eyes, can never be admirable.

I see us all as standing somewhere along a spectrum, where hopefully as we each mature/grow wiser/become more woke/develop our sensitivity to what others experience in life, we move in a positive direction. But as we take those steps, none of us ought to judge others still behind us on their journey; there is no room for self-righteousness here. At the same time, all of us ought to look inside and understand we ourselves have further ahead to travel along this spectrum. We always will. To think otherwise, to assume we have reached a place where we no longer hold harmful beliefs, is presumptuous. For this reason, I see publicly venting frustration at others who have not reached the point you are at or publicly harshly judging those who have said or done something you disagree with as both vindictive and unproductive. This kind of behavior, like I saw in Facebook groups this week, will never bring out the good in people, let alone desired results, but will instead encourage more bashing, bringing out the worst in others.

So how do I bring these two things together?

The High Holidays. They were not so long ago that we should not remember. How we ask forgiveness for those we have slighted – how we wish each other to be inscribed in the book of good or the coming year.

For me, it is especially painful to see so much hateful speech either wishing ill on someone or condemning another. Trump’s narcissism-driven behavior drives how he has mishandled everything to do with COVID-19 and our country’s losses can largely be attributed to the choices he made. But that does not give anyone license to become hateful. It solves nothing but instead speaks to one’s own character.

I’d like to end with the text of the Al Chet, to remind us of the confession we just said on Yom Kippur and seem to have forgotten already. We recite this list of sins whether or not we individually have committed each, because we stand as a community. On the flipside, when we use social media to individually commit any of these, we are essentially inviting others to join in and are snowballing our individual transgression into a collective act of hatefulness. None of this is helpful or productive and it certainly will not bring out the best in people.  I’d like to think that making things better should be what we want. Perhaps we need a test. Before we speak or type, let’s ask ourselves, will this do any good? If the answer is no or that it is only to make us feel better, then refrain from publicly sharing. Please. And now, a list of sins to read and consider, taken from the Al Chet, translation from Chabad, and read only days ago:

For the sin which we have committed before You under duress or willingly.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by hard-heartedness.
For the sin which we have committed before You inadvertently.
And for the sin which we have committed before You with an utterance of the lips.
For the sin which we have committed before You with immorality.
And for the sin which we have committed before You openly or secretly.
For the sin which we have committed before You with knowledge and with deceit.
And for the sin which we have committed before You through speech.
For the sin which we have committed before You by deceiving a fellowman.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by improper thoughts.
For the sin which we have committed before You by a gathering of lewdness.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by verbal [insincere] confession.
For the sin which we have committed before You by disrespect for parents and teachers.
And for the sin which we have committed before You intentionally or unintentionally.
For the sin which we have committed before You by using coercion.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by desecrating the Divine Name.
For the sin which we have committed before You by impurity of speech.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by foolish talk.
For the sin which we have committed before You with the evil inclination.
And for the sin which we have committed before You knowingly or unknowingly.

For all these, G-D of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.

For the sin which we have committed before You by false denial and lying.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by a bribe-taking or a bribe-giving hand.
For the sin which we have committed before You by scoffing.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by evil talk [about another].
For the sin which we have committed before You in business dealings.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by eating and drinking.
For the sin which we have committed before You by [taking or giving] interest and by usury.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by a haughty demeanor.
For the sin which we have committed before You by the prattle of our lips.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by a glance of the eye.
For the sin which we have committed before You with proud looks.
And for the sin which we have committed before You with impudence.

For all these, G-D of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.

For the sin which we have committed before You by casting off the yoke [of Heaven].
And for the sin which we have committed before You in passing judgment.
For the sin which we have committed before You by scheming against a fellowman.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by a begrudging eye.
For the sin which we have committed before You by frivolity.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by obduracy.
For the sin which we have committed before You by running to do evil.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by tale-bearing.
For the sin which we have committed before You by swearing in vain.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by causeless hatred.
For the sin which we have committed before You by embezzlement.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by a confused heart.

Instead of asking for forgiveness, I think we would live in a better world if we focused our behaviors on what it would take to get there, and not on wishing ill on anyone else. I hope you agree.

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Lawn Guyland, Wendy lived in Jerusalem for over a decade submerged in Israeli culture; she has been soaked in Southern life in metro Atlanta since returning to the U.S. in 2003. Recently remarried, this Ashkenazi mom and MIL to three Mizrahi sons and a DIL in their 20s splits her time between managing knowledge in corporate America, pursuing a dual masters in public administration and integrated global communications, relentlessly Facebooking, enjoying the arts and trying to bring a wider perspective to the topics she covers while blogging.
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