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Reflections on an Un-Soulful Election

Published in The Times of Israel by Aryeh Ben David
Posted on December 13, 2016

Several weeks ago, while visiting the US, I attended a Shabbat dinner of 15 very intelligent and kind adults, including Jewish professionals and rabbis. The conversation quickly moved to politics. Everyone assumed we were all voting for Donald Trump.

Opinions were strong and unequivocal. I felt very unwelcome.

Recently I attended several conferences in the US for Jewish Professionals. The conversations quickly moved to politics. Everyone assumed we had all voted for Hillary Clinton.

Opinions were strong and unequivocal. I felt very unwelcome.

I called this article – an Un-Soulful Election – not because of the candidates, who were both deeply flawed in different ways, but because of the attitudes reflected in my 2 experiences.

How could these two groups of intelligent and kind adults, with heightened senses of morality, assume that their choice was the only option? Why did they assume that their choice was so obvious for everyone else? For both groups, it was inconceivable that a thinking moral person would even consider the other candidate. Both groups were extremely passionate, verging on self-righteous anger.

During the two experiences I mentioned above, the voice inside me kept whispering: “Do you really think that 50% of the US voting population is 100% wrong? There are so many issues involved – domestic policy, foreign policy, economy, social rights, supreme court, trust and honesty – aren’t you making this decision a bit too easy for yourself?”

I asked many of these people if they had friends or knew people they respected who voted differently than themselves. Almost always the answer was an emphatic “No”, accompanied by a look of astonishment, as if just knowing someone who voted for the other side was contagious and made them culpable of a heinous crime.

The deeper problem of invalidating the other side is the becoming oblivious to the pain countless individuals are feeling. I wonder how well the members of the two groups I mentioned above could sincerely articulate what they think the pain the other side is feeling. Would they mock and ridicule them? Would they set them up as ‘straw men’ to easily knock down? In this last election, millions of people voted for their candidate not because they were oblivious to his/her flaws, but because of the significant pain they were feeling.

  • What happens when both sides of the electoral divide become oblivious to the pain the other side is carrying?
  • What happens to a country so divided that they can’t have contact with each other

Over twenty years ago, 1994-1995, Israel faced a national division and breakdown of horrific proportions. Two sides were deeply committed to their truth, with no understanding, valuing, or appreciating of the other side. On both sides opinions were strong and unequivocal, passionate and self-righteous. This national breakdown eventually spilled over into violence and the tragic assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Now, a generation later, a new form of remembering that dark national time has emerged. Started by youth groups, they call this day – “Yom cheshbon u’zicharon” – A Day of Reflection and Remembrance.” These youth groups remember the day of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by convening groups from all segments of Israel’s society, groups that often have very little contact with each other.

The groups spend the day listening to each other. They don’t try to score points, persuade others, or validate their own political views. The youth wisely recognize that we naturally gather with people that agree with us, read newspapers that identify with our values and beliefs, and listen to news stations that validate our opinions. The youth understand that this tendency, so present in all societies today, can eventually lead to both a shallow understanding of the layeredness of the issues and a demonization of the other side.

Perhaps we can all learn something from the wisdom of these young people.

If Ayeka could offer something to today’s political climate in the US, it would be an invitation to begin the healing process of a broken country:

  • Find someone who voted differently and listen without judgment or trying to persuade. Not a debate. Not a validation.
  • Bring together a group of people from both sides and just listen.
  • Read news articles and listen to news broadcasts that reflect the other side.

It can be uncomfortable, and perhaps even chilling, to consider that the other side, so readily demonized, may also have elements of truth. But the present pantheon of self-validation will only continual to fracture society and diminish any hope for its well-being.

No, I do not envision this will heal the deep and treacherous national divide. But the national breakdown that we all witnessed during the election process may be even more significant than the final outcome of the election. Instead of continuing to hurl vindictiveness and post self-validating articles, there is a need to begin the process of reflection and healing.

The soul of Ayeka teaches that we are all works-in-progress; we are all in the process of becoming. We want and need to become – Soulful Educators, Soulful Parents, Soulful Organizations, and Soulful Individuals.

We can also yearn to become Soulful voters – and to be a force for conducting a Soulful Election.