Be a mensch

The other day my son and I were having a conversation at bedtime, as we usually do. He asked me why there are so many awful people in the world who do such terrible things. It’s a tough question for a mother. You want to protect your children from everything evil and scary, but you also want them to be aware so that they can be safe. But still it’s hard. I find myself turning off the radio and the TV when the news comes on, because the news is absolutely horrific with color pictures of misery, death, and gore. If the same thing is shown in a movie, which is pretend, there is an age limit. But real life horror has no age limit and is broadcasted during all hours of a child’s day.

I thought for a moment lying next to my son, and then I answered his question as honestly as I could and said that I don’t know, but what I do know is that although there are many really bad people there are at least as many if not more really good people. And it is true there are a lot of good people in the world.

However, sometimes I wonder if that goodness just gets lost amidst all the egos and political rhetoric. In a time when I’m feeling quite disillusioned by the actions of my country’s leaders, it kind of makes you wonder if they are so caught up in their political power struggles that they just forgot how to be a mensch.

I saw a speech the other day by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that really touched me. As usual Adichie is intelligent and eloquent and really hits the nail on its head in her talk about the plight of the refugees fleeing their homes in search of safety. She talks about dignity, sorrow, hope, and pride, and she calls for a narrative in which we truly see those of whom we speak. No one is, after all, only a refugee. (Please watch it, it’s important, in addition to just being a great talk.)

Well anyway, I shared her speech on Facebook and a friend commented on my post, and raised a really important point. She wondered whether this thing where we don’t actually see people is a wider societal phenomenon that goes beyond the plight of the refugees. She talked about how when everything is so hectic we just don’t have the time, but that we don’t make the time either. It’s like we don’t even want to really see each other for who we really are. Think about it. Do you think that’s true?

I think she has a point. There is something about the way we live, about our culture, about the way we connect quickly and fleetingly through social media, thinking that we have kept in touch while really we grow apart if we don’t actually ever see each other or even have a real conversation every now and then. Let’s face it, we are pretty busy navel gazing much of the time as we for example document and continuously report the minutiae of our lives – minutiae, which is often also very stylized. I mean how many of you rearrange the food and cutlery on the table over and over until you get the perfect picture, or take three, five, ten selfies until you have one that is good enough to post? I admit; I’ve done it.

It’s not entirely our fault; we are very much affected by social norms and ideals, and the social structures that we are a part of, form and limit our actions. However, these structures are created and upheld by people – by us. We are also active agents involved in producing and reproducing this culture in which we live. So we can’t just shrug and say what can you do, that’s just the way it is. We not only can, we need to be reflective of what we do.

So let’s open our eyes and see each other for who we really are. And to the world leaders and politicians out there, be a mensch and make this world a more humane place for our children.

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