Anyone who knows me knows that a longtime focus of mine has been on civil discourse and what I view as the descent of public discourse in recent years. Some believe that passionate, vigorous disagreement has always been with us, and that our time is no more or less disharmonious than any other period. I disagree. I am not troubled by disagreement. I am deeply disturbed by the hateful ways in which too many voice their positions and disagreement in our day. What’s more, I am disturbed by the rhetoric and hateful characterization of “the other” – whoever that be. In too many corners I see incivility growing. It alarms me that our children are absorbing the message that it is okay to engage in hate-speech and character assassination in order to make your point, or to win a contest. In Congress, on the Presidential campaign trail, within our Jewish community when it comes to discussing anything related to Israel; on a national level when it comes time to deliberate hot-button social issues such as racial or economic justice – in short, almost wherever one looks, the temperature is rising and the rhetoric is growing more hateful and ugly by the day.
In the aftermath of yesterday’s New Hampshire Presidential primaries, analysts across the spectrum are telling us that the voting public is expressing anger. Indeed, I was raised to believe that we are meant to express our views at the ballot box. Even so, I wonder whether the build-up to the day on which the public is invited to weigh in has to be filled with so much venom, with so little listening to the other, and with so much divisiveness.
We hear that it is the fault of the media. We hear that it is the fault of our politicians. From Democrats we hear that it is the fault of Republicans; and from Republicans we hear it is the fault of Democrats. If I were answering a survey, I would readily check the box “all-of-the-above.” And, it’s our fault as well!
If we want the tenor of our public discourse to serve the higher purpose of moving – our city, our state, our nation, our community – forward then we must step forward together and bring an end to the endless spiral of “othering,” hate speech and poison-rhetoric we tolerate.
In the coming days, I will begin teaching Engaging Israel 3.0 – a Shalom Hartman Institute course focusing on Jewish Values and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Having viewed a number of parts of the course as part of my preparation, I am deeply impressed by the Hartman Institute’s approach which is less about staking out positions or convincing anyone what is the correct view to hold. Engaging Israel 3.0 is as much about how do we hold a values-based conversation about a difficult subject respecting both our own strongly-held views as well as the person and views of the other. I am as excited about EI 3.0 as an experimwnt in civil discourse as I am about its content which will allow participants to learn about Israel, the Palestinians, and the conflict against the backdrop of Jewish values.
Can we talk? These next few months will be an experiment in which I am eager to engage, on so many levels. I am hoping, that with all of the various places from which participants will come to conversation that the answer will emphatically be, “Yes, we can talk.”
Interested? You can learn more and sign-up at https://www.templeshalom.org/learning/adult-learning/