We’re All Living in a Culture of Incitement and Anger

What turbulent times in which we currently find ourselves – everywhere you look, read, hear and sometimes even smell and feel, there seems to be friction and conflict. What seems to be the cause of this constant turmoil? Is there one specific cause and did we arrive here overnight? Or did this gradually creep up upon us until suddenly we mistakenly realize this isn’t the world we thought we could shape into a climate of harmony and beauty which humankind has always dreamed of and yearned for?


Israeli friends may be relieved to learn that this isn’t just in their vicinity, country, or “neck of the woods”. No, this phenomenon is everywhere. It seems like one population sub-group is pitted against another, one philosophy vehemently clashes with others, one lifestyle inflames others, or one opinion offends those of a different persuasion. And, it has been growing until this regrettable environment of “us versus them” has now become a part of people’s lives everywhere.


Can we blame one source such as ISIS, the media, governments, the economy, cultural breakdown, or ethnic/race divisions? No, these things may in themselves be valid irritants and societal problems, but blaming just these things is only reflective of avoidant people who do not want to squarely shoulder responsibility for current societal ills. You see, as individuals, we can’t change other people, and we can’t change how they act. But we can change ourselves individually and how we react to negative circumstances.


Basically, individuals need to recognize this all-too-human tendency to find fault outside of themselves, learn to tolerate diversity, regulate and temper their reactions to adversity, and figure out what they are able to change within themselves and their immediate sphere of influence. Then they need to set about curing all the other ills by working with others for the common welfare or greater good of others without greatly “stepping on the toes” or violating the rights of others. Basically, live and let live; give respect before you expect to receive respect; mete out kindness and affirmation of others even if these never are given back to you in return; and change personal expectations that the people of this world owe you anything.


In truth, people don’t have to be, and don’t usually act nice, mannerly, respectful, and nurturing towards us out in the world, and even in our own home environments. If they happen to be nice and do any or all these things, that’s wonderful! But not everybody is a Boy or Girl Scout out looking to do a good deed to make someone else’s day better, so we shouldn’t always keep expecting others to be “good scouts”. Maybe if they make some money in the process, then maybe more people are motivated to be “good scouts” and try to improve the human condition; otherwise, I can’t comment!


So, instead of becoming offended, angry, inflamed, etc., and over-reacting when people don’t treat us the way we want to be, just calm down and remind yourself this is the cruel reality we face everyday. But that doesn’t mean we are no longer responsible to treat others as well as we would like to be treated. Little things we can do can make a huge difference in people’s attitudes and actions.


For example, over a recent weekend, my husband and I were traveling with a small group of some of his relatives and the group was pretty dedicated to staying together. But that didn’t mean everybody in the group put aside all their wants and desires to achieve “group unity”. A couple of the guys absolutely loved playing the Lottery (especially “Scratchers” games where they could instantly win money) at every convenience and gas store we frequented. Okay, so that’s pretty harmless, you might say -- up to the point where their right to play the lottery interfered with other peoples’ needs and rights. At one tiny store with only one clerk, the two guys took over this poor clerk’s counter with multiple rounds of Scratchers tickets. Once they won something, they weren’t about to let this clerk wait on other customers. I came in behind them after I had a problem with the gas pump not taking payment, but they pretty much ignored the fact I was standing right behind them waiting as they “scratched their lives away”.


Then a man from a different race entered the store, and this guy looked like he could be a really mean and tough person if he needed to be. He came and stood behind me in line, and both of us watched as the two relatives “scratched their way to potential happiness and fulfillment” with their new lottery tickets. Every time they bought another round of Lotto tickets, I could tell this man behind was feeling inconvenienced and disrespected – it was like "bad vibes” were just seeping out of his pores.


I finally turned to him and loudly said, “Sir, I’m with these knuckleheads *. It’s one thing that they waste my time. But so that they don’t waste your time, why don’t you take my place in line? My business seems like it is going to be long and I hate that you have to wait through it.”


He was so polite, and insisted that I keep my rightful place in line, but I insisted back the only right thing to do was for him to go ahead of me. Instantly, you could see on his face he felt valued, and he stood taller and straighter than he had been. His body language completely changed into, “I am a person of worth and someone worthy for the clerk to conduct business.” He no longer looked like some “mean, bad dude” either. (Needless to say, the two knuckle-headed *, scratching relatives got out of his way and the clerk instantly waited courteously on the man trying to accommodate his needs. When he left the store, he graciously thanked both the clerk and me, and wished us a “good day”.)


Now, if everybody did some little thing like that, there might be fewer race riots in the US. A lot of time, rage comes when multiple incidents of anger or perceived “slight” pile up one on top of another. If anybody would palpably validate that we’re all human beings to anyone who feels devalued, that we are all Children of G_d, and that we all have a spark of the Divine Creator within us, then there may fewer violent conflicts. But, it all starts with the attitude “live and let live”. If other individuals can’t accept that others have the right to live alongside them, then all that can be done is changing our response to the negative situations to try to defuse things. These attempts may or may not be successful, but at least we tried to do the right thing under the circumstances.


In the realities of tikkun olam, it is mostly “People of the Book” who seek to serve the Lord and follow His ways who make the most effort to do good just for the sake of bettering someone else’s life. For example, in the US, income tax returns demonstrate that 90% of the charitable giving in this country comes from Jews, Christians, and peoples of other religions. Why is this the case? I think it is because “People of the Book” have tasted His goodness and experienced His love and inclusion. They genuinely desire to be a “light to the world” and improve others’ lives as their lives have been improved upon by The Creator.

* = Okay, so I didn't refer to the relatives as knuckleheads.  I called them a worse name than that!  I feel better after telling the truth!