Font Size

Cpanel

Where Do We Go From Here?

 

Two things have been on my mind lately - how to deal with the aftermath of the election and the impact that the pandemic is having on our families. Regarding the election, I am not focusing on politics, but rather, on how to repair relationships that have been hurt due to differing perspectives. To address this topic, I share with you insights from Dr. Norman Goldwasser, a clinical psychologist from Miami Beach, Florida. In addition, you may be interested in reading this analysis by Nishma Research, titled “Priorities of Trump Voters vs. Biden Voters in the Orthodox Jewish Community: A Post-Election Analysis.” By identifying driving factors that led individuals to vote for a certain candidate, this analysis creates opportunities to build dialogue and engagement amongst groups with differing political opinions. To address the second topic, I share with you the perspective of my colleague from Boca Raton, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg. 

Blog #1:

Many marriages have been shaken to its core over the last four years. Families and friendships have been deeply divided or broken during this election cycle because of the inability to tolerate any disparate views.

What are ways we can bridge the seemingly unbridgeable chasm that exists between irreconcilable political views?

I had to learn these strategies in my own personal life as a result of the desire to preserve the relationship between two of my closest friends, a couple who are neighbors here in Miami Beach. Their views on most things politically are diametrically opposite to mine, but over the years, we have managed to maintain our relationship with dignity and mutual respect. We made a conscious decision that being right about things, or to impose our views on each other, was far less important than maintaining the warmth and integrity of our relationship. So, how did we do this?

It's critical to recognize the need to prioritize the relationship itself above all. Important relationships should not be put on the chopping block because of politics - period. No matter how passionately we feel about the virtue of our positions and how insane we feel those of people on the “other side” are, it is the relationship that matters the most.

Keeping peace amongst friends is a quintessential value of Judaism. We must do whatever it is within our power to make sure that our most important relationships are kept intact and not affected by political differences. How can we accomplish this? 

First, find some common ground. No matter how diametrically opposite you may feel the other person’s views are, there will always be at least one thing that you can agree on. That is, if you choose to focus on the commonality, as opposed to all the reasons why you think the other person is dead wrong. This will require some creativity and not a small measure of humility, in order to recognize that there are some places where you can comfortably meet in the middle.

Second, try not to be so black and white in your thinking. When we are emotionally charged, the right hemisphere of our brains become very activated, especially in the area of the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. When this area of the brain becomes highly activated, most of the neurological energy in the nervous system rushes to the right brain in order to maintain the intensity of its activation. Unfortunately, in the process, the left hemisphere, the processing center of the brain, which is the source of logic, reasoning, and perspective, becomes inactivated, and essentially shuts down. The result of this dynamic is that we can’t process the complexities of situations that are too emotionally charged for us, and we can only see the black and white, the right and wrong, as opposed to the gray areas in the middle. This is often where common ground can be found, and where both sides can agree that the situation is probably more complex than once thought.

Another aspect of bridging the gap is finding ways to acknowledge or validate the other person’s perspective or point of view, showing some degree of respect for a position different than yours. Besides being a generally effective conflict resolution strategy, it can also defuse the intensity of the disagreement, by showing that you can hear the other person, without having to agree to each point made. Just because you validate someone else’s opinions does not mean that you capitulate or admit that you are wrong. It just communicates to the other person that s/he has been heard, which alone can often neutralize the velocity of a disagreement and can even strengthen the relationship. Everyone has the need to feel heard, especially in a situation so intensely emotional such as the political situation and the future of our country.

In some cases, agreeing to avoid discussing sensitive or hotly debated topics altogether, in order to preserve the dignity and the stability of the relationship, may be the best solution. Relationships that may be more fragile or at risk may require this approach in order to ensure their survival. Sometimes, it’s just not worth the argument, especially if you know that it could lead to harsh feelings or the ending of a relationship that is important to you.

Finally, and perhaps most challenging, is to work on broadening your perspective in order to incorporate other points of view. Rigidity and inflexibility in thought or opinions is rarely effective in relationships. Having the ability to see something from another person’s perspective is a valuable tool in strengthening relationships in general, especially in a situation as volatile as this. I often try in my own relationships and when guiding patients in conflict, to force oneself to see things multidimensionally, and to realize that complex issues and situations are often multifaceted and rarely unidimensional. By doing so, you actually improve your own cognitive flexibility, which can only lead to you being more effective in all of your relationships.

As things in our country progress in the coming months, there will be a growing need for us to come together as a nation. We have had dangerous, even violent, divisions that have stoked internecine conflicts and hatred amongst our fellow countrymen. We have to rise above the fray and hold back from continuing to perpetuate the deep divisiveness of the past few years and whether or not we like the outcome of this election, to come together as Americans, and as Jews, for the common purpose of peace, unity, and harmony.

Blog #2:

Before coronavirus ever arrived, levels of anxiety, particularly among young people, were disturbingly high. Indeed, nearly one in three adolescents (31.9%) will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder by the age of 18. Many others struggle with depression and other forms of mental illness. Much has been researched and written to understand this deeply disturbing trend which is only growing. Many theories have been offered, including the impact of technology and social media. Last year, Erica Komisar, a psychoanalyst and author, shared a theory in the Wall Street Journal that is very worthy of consideration, particularly given the stress of an ongoing pandemic challenging us all.

Komisar wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

As a therapist, I’m often asked to explain why depression and anxiety are so common among children and adolescents. One of the most important explanations – and perhaps the most neglected – is declining interest in religion. This cultural shift already has proved disastrous for millions of vulnerable young people.

Harvard researchers studied 5,000 people and among many factors, tracked religious involvement. They found that children or teens who reported attending a religious service at least once per week scored higher on psychological well-being measurements and had lower risks of mental illness. Weekly attendance was associated with higher rates of volunteering, a sense of mission, forgiveness, and lower probabilities of drug use and early sexual initiation.

Komisar suggests that there may be a correlation between the decreased practice of religion and the increase in anxiety and depression. She writes:

I am often asked by parents, “How do I talk to my child about death if I don’t believe in God or heaven?” My answer is always the same: “Lie.” The idea that you simply die and turn to dust may work for some adults, but it doesn’t help children. Belief in heaven helps them grapple with this tremendous and incomprehensible loss. In an age of broken families, distracted parents, school violence and nightmarish global-warming predictions, imagination plays a big part in children’s ability to cope.

I also am frequently asked about how parents can instill gratitude and empathy in their children. These virtues are inherent in most religions… Such values can be found among countless other religious groups. It’s rare to find a faith that doesn’t encourage gratitude as an antidote to entitlement or empathy for anyone who needs nurturing. These are the building blocks of strong character. They are also protective against depression and anxiety.

Too many of us make the mistake of thinking that learning and growing, inspiration and spirituality only happen at school, the shul or the study hall, while the house is for eating, sleeping, recreation, entertainment, and storing our things. We think that God is found in religious settings, but in reality, if you want a stairway to Heaven, if you want access to the highest places, it is by inviting God into your home. We build a home for God when we welcome Him into our mundane lives in a sustained and continuous way, nurturing a place of virtue, nobility, honesty, integrity, gratitude, learning, generosity and kindness. And our homes are fertile classrooms, places of higher learning in which our children are watching and absorbing all that we do.

In Grace after Meals we say, "God bless my father, my teacher and my mother, my teacher." But most people’s fathers are not employed as teachers and their mothers are not in education so why do we give them the title teacher? Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzky says because in truth, no matter what their training, profession or type of business, every single parent is a teacher and indeed is very involved in educating not only their children but all those whom they influence.

Our homes, the environment we create, the activities we promote, the images and ideas we allow to enter, are the greatest contributor to our religious identity and ultimately have the biggest impact on our children as well. The emphasis on home is not just the physical structure, but home is a symbol of our attitudes, our efforts and our willingness to work and sacrifice for spirituality.

This pandemic has caused all of us to spend more time at home. Some have not been able to go back to shul, many have not seen their offices in months, others have been forced to convert their homes into classrooms with children engaged in distanced learning or home schooling. Certainly, we all long to return to vibrant activity and attendance in those venues so valued and critical to our sense of belonging, growth and community.

But this should not be disheartening. The paradigm shift to our role as teachers and educators, and transforming our homes into religious places, could be just what we and our children need to be resilient, strong, happy and healthy. While tempted to turn inward to avoid feeling anxious, it turns out the opposite is true. Turn out, towards caring for others, and towards connecting with God.

Even if your children are grown up, even if they are no longer in your home or under your influence, they are still deeply impacted by who you are, how you live, what you value, how you speak, and how you prioritize your life. It is never too late to turn your literal or figurative home and life into a house for God and thereby create a gateway to Heaven.