Skip to main content

Me First?

The New York Times recently reported that after analyzing language and lyrics in 30 years of hit songs, University of Kentucky psychologist Dr. Nathan DeWall found “a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music,” and claimed that, “Late adolescents and college students love themselves more today than ever before.” I’m no fan of such blanket pronouncements on generational issues that pop up periodically and create a fuss with representatives of the accused age group howling in protest while the older folk sigh and sing a chorus of “Kids!” from “Bye Bye Birdie.”


Coincidentally, in the past few years there has been a huge surge in popularity of the narcissism of Ayn Rand, the so-called “philosopher,” and her belief in and promotion of what she called “Objectivism,” an emotion-free reason-based concept that glorifies (in her words) “man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life …” Simply stated, in Rand’s ethic, a person’s business acumen is the standard by which to judge him and the importance of the individual vastly outweighs the needs of the community. Still highly controversial even though she died in 1982 (her body was laid out next to a six-foot floral dollar sign), Rand’s a hot commodity these days.


Have we really become so self-centered? Do we really live our lives with the philosophy that “I’ve got mine, I don’t care if you don’t get yours?” What about us Jews, whose commitment to community, the “other,” and family is supposedly legendary? Have we joined the ranks of the “me first” movement?


With great sadness, I think sometimes that we have. We expect other people to be with us in times of need or joy – to say Kaddish or to celebrate a joyful event – without understanding that if we have not made ourselves available during regular day-to-day opportunities, we have no right to expect anything from anyone else or to feel resentful when no one is there for us. We expect a community to rally around us when we need and want it without realizing that we, too, have an obligation to that community because “community” is based on mutual affection and regularly applied attention.


We Jews can and should do better. The language that defines us in prayer and ritual is strictly in terms of “we,” not “I.” We need at least 10 people to conduct official prayer business. Our life cycle events were never intended as invitee-only or solitary affairs. Celebrating, mourning or even living in isolation is simply not Jewish. Showing up as a Jew should be a daily affair, not something just reserved for the occasional momentous occasion.


Our collective memory reinforces the Jewish ethos of Kol Yisraeil aravim zeh la-zeh – all Israel is responsible for one another – and is the classic textbook definition of “it takes a village.”

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5777: WAIT

I got the best advice from my son: "Mom, why are you even engaging with these people? Please stop."

I've got people on Facebook who - while holding similar philosophies in some areas - are 180 degrees from me politically. I long ago determined that arguing with these people is counterproductive, only useful if I believe - science notwithstanding - that heartrate-raising arguments is equal to a good cardio workout.

And so my goal for today is to WAIT (by the way, not an original concept - I learned it from Rabbi Andy Sklarz): Why Am I Talking?

Provocateurs and bullies want to be engaged. They poke, someone responds, and the game is afoot. Like fire, they need constant air renewal. So if don't engage, don't respond, they will run out of air.

So for today, I grit my teeth ... and wait.


Elul 21: The airline safety guide (Love)

You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Adonai. (Lev. 19:18)

You shall love the stranger that dwells with you (who will be for you like the native-born among you), as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am Adonai, your God. (Lev. 19:34)

And you shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might ... (Deut. 6:5)

If you've paid attention to your flight attendant, you know that in the event of an emergency, you put your own oxygen mask on first. Only then do you help someone next to you, including a child. Why? Because if you don't have oxygen, you're useless to anyone else.

It's the same with love.

Start by loving and caring for yourself. It's not selfish; it's just a place to start.

Then move outward: your neighbor, your community, the strangers around you.

Then, finally, the realm of God: the spiritual love that holds all the others together.

But it all starts in your own home.


Elul 23: Wednesday, September 23, 2015 at 6:50 (Begin)

Someone I knew hated the expression "new beginning" because it was redundant. The argument was that beginning implies new, right?

Not necessarily. A "do-over" is a beginning of sorts that acknowledges that the first try got muffed up. "Start again, from the beginning" and "begin again" are phrases I use regularly with students and choir singers. A "new" beginning is an attitude, a mindset, an awareness that we have a chance to do something with a fresh take, a new vision. 

Even  בראשית ברא אלוהים, B'reishit bara Elohim, the first words in the Bible, are translated frequently as "when God was beginning," implying that starting this new venture was an ongoing event. It's suggested that God had given this new world thing a go several times already, was about to abandon the effort, and only the angels' intervention gave God the oomph to give it another try ... this time with feeling (as the saying goes).

We're about …