It’s time to listen

Friday, 29 September, 2023 - 6:00 am

I too am shuddering upon hearing what happened on Yom Kippur. And the truth is, not only after Yom Kippur – for a few months already I’ve been shuddering; my chest feels heavy, it’s hard to breathe and hope seems somewhat distant.

On principle, I have on my Facebook page people with a variety of opinions and styles, and it is not at all easy for me. The posts have become very extreme, biting, hurting, angry, aggressive. I am so happy I don’t have Twitter.

I want to rectify, want to do something. Can I? I am just one individual. Can I change things? I try to remember always what is said in the name of the Kotzker Rebbe: “When I was young, I wanted to change the whole world. When I grew up, I discovered that it is difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my people. When I saw that I cannot change the people, I tried to at least change my city. I failed in doing that, as well, and decided to focus on changing my family. Now that I am old, I understand that the only thing I can change is myself. And suddenly I understand that if I would have changed myself long ago, it would have influenced my family; there would have then been a change in my city and my people, and then I truly would have changed the world.”

So what can I do?

I read and now know that the social network plays a major role in this situation. But not because everyone posts, and not because there is no editing and people feel free to write whatever they want, and also not because people are writing to the keyboard and are not meeting each other enough in real life, and not even because it’s so readily available and people are letting off steam: Studies show (I read this and it sounds logical to me) that the social network makes people throughout the world more extreme because it enables us and causes us to be around people who are like us. The algorithm identifies what I like to read and sends me more of the same kind, so that people are exposed only rarely to other opinions, other thoughts and other voices, and when they are exposed, it is in the form of lurid headlines, without giving the full picture. 

As a result, people listen to the radio station that says what they want to hear, and watch news programs that show them the world as they would like to see it. 

And then, as you probably understand already, we become impatient with others, unwilling to hear, to listen, to read and see articles, columns and opinion that are not in line with our worldview. It is only a short hop from there to extremism.

So what should I do?

I think I ought to start training myself to listen to other opinions. Not to contain them – that’s already the next stage, and every stage here is very difficult – but just to practice listening. To listen to another opinion, hear it, listen to the person voicing it; usually a person expresses some emotion in his words – fear, anger, joy or hatred. We should listen to it. 

And to go back to the Kotzker Rebbe’s idea, I would start with listening to myself, hearing my opinions and trying to understand which pains and fears I’m expressing in them. Are they real? Perhaps they aren’t?

And then to hear and listen to the wife, the husband, the son and the daughter. Every one of them has what to say, what to express. Am I capable of listening to what my wife says even when it angers or scares me? Am I capable of listening to what my son has to say even when I know that what he will say might shake up my world? Am I capable of hearing what my daughter is saying when I know that every word of hers will pain me?

The festival of unity is upon us – a holiday that connects between arava and etrog; the succah that accepts everyone together. Perhaps now is the time to begin this training? According to the Kotzker Rebbe, that is how we can change the world. 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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