Even as I wrote it, I was disturbed by my last week’s Musing. The Musing’s premise was that we shouldn’t be surprised by hypocrisy in our politicians. I think, sadly, that this is true. When many citizens demand that elected officials sanctimoniously parrot standardized phrases and then vote on the basis of those politically correct formulations we shouldn’t be surprised that the words of those running for office don’t match their personal actions.
This is not confined to politicians, of course. Our society keeps on pushing people to say one thing and think, believe and do another. For example, for many years now students taking a variety of exams, have been forced to choose between marking what they know to be the officially correct answer or responding with the truth according to their beliefs and, often, according to science. Recently, the MCATs, taken by aspiring doctors, added ideological questions that compel religious Christians and Jews to make exactly that deeply disturbing choice.
However writing about Eric Schneiderman, who resigned as New York’s Attorney General after allegations of disturbing personal conduct were made, troubled me. This resignation follows a pattern in a continuing series of stories that fling private matters into the public realm.
Let me explain. This Saturday night marks the 3,330th anniversary of God giving the Torah on Mt. Sinai. While the Five Books of Moses do feature many oft-cited rules about charity, food, justice and sexual behavior, a surprising number of them deal with speech.
Gossip as entertainment has become so deeply embedded in our society that it is easy to forget that the prohibition against it springs from the same source as the prohibition against theft and adultery. In the Bible, there are numerous subcategories of forbidden speech, known in Hebrew as onaat devarim, sheker, rechilut, lashon hara, avak lashon hara, motzi shem ra and more. These don’t have ready translations into English and each headlines an area that has many categories. They include truthful statements and lies, positive and negative words, discussions that are seemingly innocent and words meant to wound. However, although there are rare times when one is obligated to carefully share negative information or to sound harsh, the idea of casually talking about people and intruding into people’s lives is never seen as a desired behavior. Almost all words said in private conversation to friends and other people merit protection. Without that, one enters a Soviet style world where people are afraid to speak.
While I admit to picking up People magazine two weeks ago at the dentist’s office and enjoying the pictures of the new British prince, the idea of a magazine like that, which in itself is tame compared to other media out there, is unambiguously against God’s directives. Today, newspapers that like to think of themselves as sophisticated cover stories that used to be considered only tabloid fodder. Technology has increased the reach and power of peering into others’ lives in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Our society is awash in lascivious looks and prying peeks.
Even the sanctity of marriage is threatened by a society that salaciously pants for views into private relationships. No decent person thinks that marriage allows a man to physically assault a woman. This was the impetus behind laws that emerged from the 1970s on, declaring spousal rape a crime. But our cultural definition of rape and force is changing to the point that just about everyone is liable to be guilty.
There are things each of us do for other people. I put a smile on my face when I am in the supermarket because my having a difficult day doesn’t give me permission to bring down the mood of others around me. I dress in a certain way when going to a class to show respect for the other students and the teacher. I play a game of Candyland when my to-do list is overwhelming in order bring a smile to my granddaughter’s face.
And in a marriage, husbands and wives do things that they may not particularly care to do in order to please their spouse. All those things, but especially intimate ones, deserve the sanctity of privacy. Almost every word exchanged within a sacred relationship, like marriage and family, merits titanium protection. If at a future time the marriage sours, leaving animosity in place of affection, those things should not retroactively be labelled as forced. Details being flagrantly shared should make decent people recoil with disgust.
Having intimate relationships outside of marriage is not encouraged by the Torah, but speaking about them compounds the wrong. If a man assaults a woman, that is a criminal act. But if a man and a woman engage in an activity, it is a dangerous thing to validate the notion that in hindsight one can declare oneself to have felt forced and gain instant sympathy status by blabbing about it. For years, society has mocked religious people by saying that what two people do in the privacy of the bedroom is no one else’s business. Now, that same society is promoting the idea that, retroactively, possibly scarred, scorned and rapacious women should be encouraged to make those actions everyone’s business. I worry that last week, I might have acquiesced in that idea.
It is difficult in an increasingly immoral society to cling to morality without withdrawing from that society. Withdrawal, however, means giving up and abandoning the idea of positive change or helping even a few people learn that there is an alternate, better, way of life. Like so many of you, I struggle to keep a moral compass without putting on blinders, a Herculean task.
23 thoughts on “Exposed”
First let me again say how much I love reading your thoughts. You’re like a voice of sanity in the wilderness.
Secondly, I was reading just recently Leviticus 19: 16 and the whole chapter. That verse says “Do not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people;” It struck me that if we could just get people to even obey this one command from God, what a paradise this world would be by comparison to how it is now!
Very true, George. Thank you for the kind words.
For many, the very fact that this judicious piece of advice you quoted is from the Bible is enough to discredit it entirely.
Wow Susan you’ve said more than a mouthful as usual. And I agree it has become increasingly more difficult to maintain a moral compass in this day and time without appearing able to accept the reality of our day. However it is just that much more important not to allow the immorality of society to blindside us.
Janet, what makes it even more difficult is that as we lose sensitivity we aren’t even aware of all the things to which we’ve become accustomed that would have horrified a previous generation.
Valuable and insightful observations; ones I’ve not seen expressed elsewhere in the context of the issues and controversies you referred to. Thank you.
The public discourse has changed so greatly, but in increments, so we don’t realize that what used to exist – but be considered lower class – is now widespread, Mark.
I’ll comment only that the. Verses that still resonate to me, in revelation only Christ can recreate again, His human concept. Which will again fail because we are not perfect as He. Eternal life with Him and we being perfected or better in His end kingdom is a expression I long to see, as well as many others. G-d help us all in the interam.
‘Almost all words said in private conversation to friends and other people merit protection.’ Bingo! These words should be a sacrosanct commandment. We say all kinds of things as we should, and often as we must, to disclose bits of sensitive information to be cogently acted upon. But these words are usually private in nature. And when we hear words that ‘were not meant for our ears’ or meant for the ears of others, we should safeguard these words of others just as we would wish our own private words to be safeguarded. It all boils down to the Golden Rule, doesn’t it? But then again, politics oft seems to have abandoned the Golden Rule, and when this happens, a withering spirit of malice and Schadenfreude haunts the battlefield.
James, and sometimes we say stupid things or things that will easily sound stupid or even vicious out of context. Being betrayed by a friend or relative by having those things broadcast is destructive to society. We need connections and being trained not to trust damages us all.
Truer words were ne’er spoken. Add to this the awesome power of electronic media to broadcast. I have seen acquaintances, even friends alienated and severed by a casual comment in electronic media, thinking one’s words were private, when in fact online privacy settings were ignored or misconstrued, and the ‘private’ comment was broadcast to the winds.
So true, James. The ‘privacy’ settings should not be relied upon.
Bless you, Susan, for raising this issue. I wish the news editors for all outlets were required to read this musing.
I could go down a number of paths on this one, but what bothers me often is the desensitization we suffer from hearing salacious gossip, true or not. I will focus on the salacious gossip we hear about our leaders, not once but repeatedly. In the case of our President, we often hear the same stories over weeks or months. We grow unthinkingly callous to the effect of these stories. We, as adults, evaluating political leaders, need to consider serious transgressions with respect to their impact on those leaders fitness to hold office. But do we need to hear the same stories in the news repeated a dozen times a day, often with film or tape. (With respect to intimate acts, even those outside marriage, should we be privy to them at all unless they involve a criminal act.)
This repetition in the news cycle desensitizes and hardens our hearts to the harm done to the individuals spoken about and to the acts they engaged in or were victim of. It also hardens our hearts with respect to the sin of gossip itself, as you point out. For example, in stories about the President, we never think of their effect on his wife, his children, especially his young son, Barron, his grandchildren, and his friends and associates. If he has sinned (which is for God to judge), haven’t we equally sinned by tearing at his dignity as a human being before those who care for him?
It is easier for us to engage in gossip the more often we hear it. For example, we get on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, or whatever, and we pass around what we have heard or read. Sometimes we do this indiscriminately, not checking whether articles we see are true or not. It is truly disturbing how often someone posts an article without checking it out to be sure it is true. It is easy to do. So many look legitimate. But we grow careless, maybe because we see the example of a media that also is careless, if not downright malicious. Lately, what I am impressed with more and more is that we need to watch our tongues – and our fingers – because our idle words can do as much harm as our acts. Jesus taught that we should guard our tongues because what comes out of our mouths reveals what is in our hearts. Heaven help me, I am as guilty as the next person, but I repent and ask forgiveness and do my best to be vigilant.
One last comment. What is interesting in the personal battle is that when you concentrate on speaking well of others, life is brighter.
Joyce, thank you for making such an important point.
Thank you again, Susan, for giving us the “language” to sort through the moral challenges of our times. You are a courageous woman who speaks truth with clarity.
May HaShem give me the courage, the words and the opportunities to follow your example.
I seek the same courage, Shira. Knowing the right thing and doing the right thing do not necessarily go together.
Thank you for sharing your insights! I appreciate your perspective on today’s society.
Thanks for reading, Don.
Holy Mother Church is struggling mightily within the Vatican and parishes worldwide, traditionalists of which I am one trying valiantly to make a case for Catholic doxy to a younger, unchurched and undereducated population who see no reason to follow such “archaic” laws and ways of living. No one is spared in this tsunami but one who is well grounded in their faith will not be swept away when the tide recedes. Thanks for making my day once again, Susan!
Kristin, you can read articles about increased depression in teens, particularly girls, largely as part of the ‘all gossip, all the time” culture they are in.
Thank you for your help & understanding with this topic. Especially “easygoing” these days is gossiping. I have been abused by this method of control/manipulation in the past. I have confronted this in my past and personal conversations. There is no recourse for those harmed…you can only engage in the same practice to defend yourself! It is amazing how Our Father recaptures our integrity, and HE is aware of every moment.
Thanks again, SHALOM! Victoria
Victoria, it is incredibly hard not to ‘reply in kind’ when being gossiped about, but most often it is the right thing to do. On the other hand, it may be a different story when dealing with public figures. When President Bush tried to stay above the fray and not respond to vicious attacks, he ended up losing authority as his opponents (enemies?) had control of the narrative. This is not an easy subject.
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