Yesterday, I had a discussion with a Jewish friend. He is struggling with the fact that many non-Jews seem to be living in a parallel universe than the Jewish people after Hamas’s attack on Israel and the outbreak of yet another war between Hamas and Israel. We non-Jews offer condolences and kind words but are largely disconnected from the devastation that happens to both innocent Israeli and Palestinians , in his view.
I conceded that I am among that group. I can’t look at the images of the attack and the dead for too long, lest I be overcome with depression and the age old questions that have bothered humans for centuries.
Why do we treat each another this way?
Why would an omnipotent force allow it to happen?
What can I do about it?
I don’t know the answer to the first two. My answer to the third is “not much.” I cannot alter the geopolitical fabric of the Middle East or offer a solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. All I can do is treat others and the environment as I would have them treat me, vote for those who I believe enact that principle, educate myself on topics as best as I can, and become involved in causes that further my beliefs.
While speaking to my friend, I went onto CNN to test a theory. Within a minute, I was proven right, finding an article about the devastating Libyan floods that have killed over 4000 people. The constant inundation of tragedy is too much to bear. We would all go insane if we tried to process all the horrors in this world.
Now that Hamas and Israel dominate the headlines, the Russo-Ukrainian War has been pushed away. Yet soldiers and civilians die every day and a nation struggles for its right to exist. The awful reality continues whether or not we outside the conflict pay attention to it.
The multitude of pain and suffering in our world is why more than ever I am committed to not do what is hateful unto my neighbor, as Hillel the Elder phrased the Golden Rule. While I cannot make an acceptable solution to the Israel-Hamas or Russo-Ukraine conflicts, repair Libya and so on, I can enhance joy and lessen suffering in my limited scope by treating others as I would have them treat me, how they wish to be treated and avoid doing what is hateful to them.
As I approach my 33rd year on this Earth, I find a great synergy between the Golden Rule and that Yiddish proverb. In my experience, anger, jealousy, greed, pride and similar emotions lead to me treating others as I would not have them treat me because I am so consumed with myself and my own goals. I forget about what I have been spared and think about what I have been denied.
That’s not to say I can’t feel hurt or aggrieved. Respecting myself is an important part of the Golden Rule, for if I treat myself poorly, I am not doing unto myself as I would do unto others. The point is to be balanced, to respect myself as the same level or close to the same level as I do everyone else.
While most of us will never be in a position to transform our country’s policy regarding Israel and Palestine, climate change or a host of other issues, we have a host of small choices every single day that will shape us as human beings and improve or worsen the world.
When futility threatens to overwhelm me with terrible event after terrible event around the globe, focusing on my own ethics helps me gain some agency.
And it all starts with the Golden Rule and my favorite Yiddish proverb.
Where does it start for you?