By Rabbi Stephanie Kramer
When his mother asked a child whether his Lego guys were the good guys or the bad guys, he responded, “We think we’re the good guys and they’re the bad guys, but they think they’re the good guys and we’re the bad guys.”
This insightful youngster can teach us so much about life. Domestic arguments, wars and political discourses can all be boiled down to this simple lesson: everyone thinks they are the good guys. I have never heard a person with political aspirations say they wanted to do harm; every elected official and every non-profit aims to do good in the world. I also know that many of these officials and organizations prove over time to not be as outstanding as they started out. I am sure that many get derailed from their original intent or end up bargaining with key elements. But each and every one of them believes they’re the good guys.
Most issues in today’s political discussions involve passionate people trying to solve challenges from different angles. For example, looking narrowly at gun control in the U.S., both sides of the issue are simply trying to keep us safe. Neither side says, “I want to make the U.S. less safe for its citizens.” Yet the opposing sides in the issue have vastly differing views on how to best accomplish this safety and even what that safety means. One side wants to institute legislation limiting the scope of guns in the U.S. whereas the other wants to protect their right to bear arms. The NRA websites states, “In an increasingly dangerous world, the NRA remains focused on our mission: strengthening Americans’ Second Amendment freedom to defend themselves, their families and their communities.” Both sides want to protect people and save lives. Even though I have strong opinions on the topic, I, too, can see that the people lobbying against my view do not have evil intentions but rather are approaching a challenge from a different point of view.
This concept can be carried over into most political discourse. Yet, many times we get so caught up in our own strong views of right and wrong that we demonize the other side. I grew up in a politically charged home with parents of differing parties. For years, I avoided in political discussions. Now, in this difficult political climate, I have strong views. I, too, get so caught up in my viewpoints that I forget to hear the other side. I am grateful that my Judaism provides me with a framework for many of these issues. I know that others use the exact same Jewish road map and come to opposite conclusions.
Yet, regardless of my personal political views, I hope that people with all views will feel comfortable in discourse and community together. I realize this is always uncomfortable for those in the minority! Just as our biblical ancestors argued with one another over beliefs, so should we continue to engage in discourse no matter how vast our disagreements. Of course, as with everything else, there are lines in the sand: I will not tolerate hate speech. I will not tolerate discrimination. I will not tolerate demonizing the other side. Instead, we should disagree with dignity. Dignified conversations concentrate on beliefs rather than personal attacks. Dignity is not discriminating on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other bias. Dignity is having dialogue about issues, rather than people. Dignity is treating people who disagree with you with the respect they deserve.