Wake up, Grow up: Things not to say to encourage change

Dismissiveness of voters who don’t plan on voting the way we do is pervasive these days. It is appropriate to dismiss the candidate we oppose. But censuring supporters of the Democratic runner-up to “grow up”, or supporters of the Republican nominee to “wake up” hardly feels like an effective way to encourage their openness to change. Infantilizing them may actually inflame them. 

Is there an alternative way which takes any aspect of their claim seriously enough for them, in turn, to take us seriously? We like it when people treat our views with nuance and curiosity. This is no less true for those who see entirely different problems and solutions than we see.

In this week’s portion of Torah Moses teaches the Ten Commandments, retelling the Sinai revelation. While most attention focused on the variances in the law of Shabbat, differences in the tenth commandment itself, against coveting, are highly instructive. “And you shall not covet (tachmode) your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not long (tittaveh) for your neighbor’s house” (Deut. 5:18). Perhaps the most commonly broken of all of the Ten Commandments, the temptation to want what others have is hard to resist. It is also the only commandment that seeks to regulate an emotion. Envy and its associated passions often threaten compliance with the other commandments prohibiting violence, dishonor, and deception. Moses even adds an additional verb, tittaveh to God’s original use of the word for covet, tachmode, which alludes to the emotional pull that is at stake in striving to curb envy. In schooling the Children of Israel in the rigors of containing emotional intensity, Moses’ lesson feels timely for us.

Coveting is the absolute opposite of how we are relating to those who plan on voting differently this fall. We are repelled emotionally from their worldview and from their recklessness. Yet if we struggle to contain our distaste, if we decline to join in this summer’s furnace of anger and fear, then we will have elevated to a place where we might find some validity in the worries and wishes of others, who just might return the favor seeing worthiness in our worries and wishes. Condemn the candidate. But if you want the electorate to behave more responsibly, begin at home before turning to your neighbor’s house.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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