A few weeks after Yom Kippur, and just one week before the 2016 presidential election, I am hovering in a pretty constant state of “I am not sorry if I offend you.”
It was triggered by the latter, but I didn’t actually realize (or, at least, verbalize) that I felt that way until the former.
While my daughter was singing in her Reform Jewish day school/synagogue’s choir, I was reading through the greatest Al Chet hits listed in the high holiday prayerbook (and watching her perform, I was totally watching her perform, honest). I came upon the repentance-worthy sin of: Using our words as weapons.
I do that. I do that a lot. Spoken words, written words, thought words (good thing I’m not Catholic). I nudged my husband (who actually was watching our daughter at that moment) and underlined the sentence with my finger. Because he does it, too.
But then I kept on reading. Other offenses included: Not standing up for the Jewish people and Not standing up against injustice.
And that’s when I got confused. And philosophical.
How exactly is one expected to stand up for the Jewish people and/or stand up against injustice if words as weapons isn’t a (major) part of the arsenal?
There are people out there to whom my mere existence—whether as a Jewish woman or a Jewish woman who isn’t Jewish enough, and everything in between—is an offense. There are people to whom my marriage to a non-Jewish African-American man and the creation of our three children is an offense. There are people who are offended by the way I raise those children. I know that last one for certain. Many of the aforementioned offended share their offense right here on Kveller. (Why God created the Comments…)
Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
Many of the thoughts and opinions issued during this election season have offended me. I could list them all, but that would be a mere distraction from my main point. Suffice it to say that they came from a variety of candidates belonging to a variety of parties and spanned a variety of issues.
I am pretty certain that said candidates and their supporters don’t give a fraction of a fig that they’ve offended me. And here, actually, is my main point: They shouldn’t.
If they believe something with all their heart and are working tirelessly to bring their vision of the world into being (and remember, I insist on presuming that the majority of people are coming from a good place, whether or not I agree with them), then they genuinely should not care if they offend those who hold opposite views. In fact, they should embrace it!
Why should anyone feel remorseful for trying to make the world a better place (as they see it), on a global, local, or personal scale? Now, granted, you might regret a particular set of actions. You might regret the consequences of those actions. You might genuinely not have meant to hurt someone. (Except, remember, very often, good intentions have unintended negative consequences, too). But you know what they say about making omelets and cracking eggs. (And if you don’t, it’s that you can’t make one without some schisms.) Isn’t it ultimately pretty naïve to think that you can bring about change without ever upsetting anyone in the status quo?
How else are you supposed to do it?
If you can’t use words as weapons, what should you use—bazookas? That seems even more ill-advised.
So if you are spending this time between Yom Kippur and the election, your soul newly cleansed and sin-free, standing up for what you believe in, don’t worry about offending others. Or asking forgiveness for it next year.