Walking a mile in someone's shoes. Don't! They are not your size! The past three weeks has been a dark time for the Jewish people and now begin the seven weeks of consolation. I feel deeply that the world needs them. The exile we suffer, and are hopefully at the end of, is because of tzinat chinum. Baseless hatred. Hatred for no reason. Can we really hate our fellow human for no reason? There must be a reason! It should not be possible to hate for nothing, there is always something! So why is it called baseless hatred? What are we talking about here? I want to, in true Jewish form, tell a few stories that have happened to me and people I have known. Perhaps they can shed some perspective on this enigma. I have a high-needs child. She suffers from a few issues. One challenge is sensory, she simply feels certain things much more intensely than others, like putting on clothes or taking them off sometimes. Imagine having a really bad sunburn that no one can see.
My best friend has a son with Down syndrome. He has a twin brother (who does not have Down syndrome). We support each other with our different challenges. Actually, we support each other through just about everything. I love this woman. With her son, it is visible and obvious that he has added challenges just out of the starting gate of life. With my daughter, her challenges are not visible, except that some may notice that her eyes don’t work together very well. That’s just one of the difficulties my kid faces. My friend and I talk about people's reactions to our children.
Knowing my friend’s kids and my kids has brought up a very real way of looking at understanding our fellow humans. There are two kinds of journeys, those we see (yet still may not understand) and those that are hidden.
Every soul is a precious diamond from G-D entrusted to us for, we hope, a very, very long time. Each child brings adds tremendous blessings to the world and to us, and stretches our understanding of love and self. For my daughter, her eyes are but a small portion of the struggle. She gives us a real run for our money. I always say that I pray to God to send me children who will be strong, with a strong enough personality to do the work of this world. I need to add, “and give me the strength to raise that energy!” Comments I often get are, “You should take a parenting class, I know a good one.” “It is cold outside, where are her shoes?” “Her dress is inside out, how can you let her out looking like that?” “Don't you own clothing that fits? Let me bring you some.” “Just be more strict and then she will sleep through the night.” “It is your fault she acts that way.” Ah, I wish it was! That would be easier. If it were all my fault, then I could just change and fix it. I bless them, smile, and move on. I try not to hold it against people who tell me what sort of parenting I should do for my high-needs kid. I actually try to see their point of view. Some days I try to do a little education and tell the well-meaning person about where my kid is coming from, and about her struggles. Some days I am the one receiving education. Actually, some of THE best and most helpful advice I have received has been unsolicited advice, but first I have move my ego out of the way to receive it. What if, the way out of baseless hatred was to realize at all times and in all interactions with people that each carries multiple experiences, challenges, and stories that may be just a tip of an iceberg that they are showing you? Or perhaps that understanding that the one interaction that we might take as offensive or rude could have a completely different explanation than the one we place on it?!
This leads me to my next story about always giving the benefit of the doubt. My parents named their fights. I love this about them. Just as the old prison joke goes, a new man comes into the prison and an older inmate says, "hey guys, 43!" And everyone laughs. Not wanting to miss out, the new inmate asks what 43 means. They tell him "well, to save time, we numbered all the jokes, so all we need to do is reference the number!" My parents decided to do a version of this for their fights. After you have been married for a while, you realize that the same disagreements can come up over and over again in different forms. Once they put the deep work into understanding this issue, and realizing that it could be recurring in other ways. They named it. Hence, “Sheep Don't Eat Deer.” I won't go through every detail of the story, but the short version is that my mother and father were hiking, and my mother was telling my father about how there used to be sheep in the valley and now there were only deer. My father, who had only been half listening (men NEVER do that!), retorted to her in a snarky way that Sheep Don't Eat Deer, as if my mother -- who is a highly intelligent person -- was STUPID enough to think that!!! Needless to say, she wasn't. So now, anytime that one of them miss-hears the other and assumes the worst, they activate this tried and true argument and it's outcome. Perhaps the other misheard. And, they try to communicate again. A marriage coach I admire has always said that 99.9 percent of issues in a marriage stem from lack of communication, or lack of understanding the communication correctly. What if baseless hatred is the same? For today, and these coming weeks of consolation. Let’s try others perspectives on for size.