Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Opinion of Others


28th Tishrei, 5772
October 26th, 2011

Don Marquis, an American humorist jack-of-all-trades, once said, “If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; but if you really make them think, they’ll hate you.”

He’s right, and his being right is huge problem for us all.

You and I learn how to be good through others’ approval. When we’re children, people’s response to us teaches us whether we’ve done right or wrong. So, the inclination to care what other people think starts early and runs deep.

But with a constancy that bespeaks the immutability of human nature, making people think does not win their kindness. Rather, when you speak up for justice, when you poke holes in facades covering societal ills, when you question the way things are, be assured that you will make a lot of people very, very angry.

Anger is understandable. Human beings are bad at change, and readily prefer the evil they know over the good they don’t. Even when change is in our self-interest, it is our nature to resist it. The people of Israel to Moshe and Aharon, “…May the Lord look upon you and punish you for making us loathsome to Pharoah and his courtiers…” (Exodus 5:21)

What this anger means, though, is that sometimes we have to lean against our instinctual tendency to want approval. The opinions of others are not the sign of our merit.

About Noah, the Torah says, “…He was a righteous and blameless man in his generation…” (Genesis 6:9) I have no doubt that his contemporaries thought well of him, and praised his holiness. But a more holy man would have fought for the fate of the earth, pushed people to be better, and accepted the wrath he incurred thereby. There is a reason we call ourselves “the seed of Avraham,” and that Noah’s name is left behind.

1 comment:

  1. Prophecy is not an easy path. Look at how Jonah resisted. How many rabbis have lost their pulpits for preaching an unpopular message?