Friday, January 26, 2007

Creating Positive Change

One of my best friends is visiting this week. I always enjoy speaking to her about "issues" because she is able to explore and articulate the different perspectives of a situation without judging those with whom she disagrees. I alwasy end up feeling better equipped to judge favorably after speaking to her. Last night we started by discussing the conference she attended at which Gil Student, Rabbi Blau, and others were discussing the sex abuse scandal. She is not "in the blogosphere" so I was already familiar with a lot of the details of what had happened, and of course got onto UOJ and that whole situation. And I started explaining to her that, while the naming names on that blog was definitely a big problem, the lack of action over many years to resolve the problem in any other way must have created such frustration that the person didn't know of any other way - and sure enough, it got the reults that no other more Torah-oriented steps had achieved. (That's my basic understanding of that whole situation - don't intend for this post to go in more depth down that road.) I feel strongly that when the frustration gets to be so much and no matter what you do you feel helpless, people can get to a mental point where they do things that are definitely wrong but which they really honestly don't see any other choice.

My friend's response was that this is a dangerous premise because it can be used to excuse any number of behaviors when people get angry. She suggests a two step process when a person is that frustrated about a situation. First, calm down in wahtever way you are able - whether it's indirectly related (go for a walk) or directly related (write a letter where you let it all out but don't send it). Then, once you are calm, develop a plan of action. If this is a personal situation, this can be practical steps that are actually going to be productive. If it's a community issue, think about whether you would be able to speak to someone who can actually influence the situation. (As SephardiLady did with her letter to Rabbi Horowitz.) If it's a world issue or there really is no direct way you can act, look to the bigger question of what you might be able to do - for example, just by being a kind person you can start a chain of people being kind to each other. I am a member of, and members have been posting for weeks about "Pay It Forward" actions that have influenced their lives in positive ways.

I still feel that the frustration itself is a serious issue and I will post more about this next time. However, I also found myself feeling more sympathetic to people with whom I normally disagree, once my friend showed how they were also acting from a deep feeling of frustration on their own issues.