Today I had the privilege to invoke the Fullerton City Council.
This is what I said:
Mayor Fitzgerald, Council Members Flory, Silva, Whitaker and Zahra,
We are experiencing a pandemic.
We are fully invested in the enterprise of refraining from many things that we once took for granted… In order to slow down and fight COVID, we are washing our hands, wearing masks, keeping social distance etc. – and we pray- for that to be enough, however these practices are not good enough for the other pandemic that we are dealing with.
Our public discourse is becoming more and more vicious and offensive. In the name of truth, many people feel the legitimacy to act with disregard and rudeness. It happens in politics, in virtual interactions, it happens in communal interchanges and so I would venture and say that this also happens in our beloved city!
And here it is: negative behavior is corrosive and it tends to be contagious.
Let me set this clear: in a society facing the pandemic of corrosive disregard, abuse, vicious public discourse, bullying, and growing apathy, we need kindness. We need kindness to go viral!
But kindness can’t be practiced without empathy and unfortunately this is a decreasing value in the American society.
If we want more kindness we need to increase the level of empathy – The good news is that empathy isn’t a trait but rather a skill that can be trained and a resource that can be renewed!
This council can be an epicenter of the healing that our society so desperately needs; Not by aspiring for uniform views but by treating each other’s views and needs with deep regard.
I want to humbly share with this venerable council 4 principles of empathy that I pray will take place in this holy space:
Engage
When you meet something that is painful, or challenging, or even frustrating, don’t walk away but ruther walk toward it – even when you are not sure of how to help and even when things look overwhelming your intentional presence can make a big difference
Articulate Wishful thinking
Bless and pray for people.
Out loud or in silence, articulate attentive wishful words. Challenge yourself and try to find these words especially when something or someone is challenging you.
Be Generous
Give generously and don’t expect reward. Don’t sit and wait for feedback for your positive actions. Remember that your reward is in the contribution itself.
Positive Approach
Have faith in people, assume that they are moved by good, even when you don’t necessarily like what you are hearing; seek to understand their values and motivations, choose compassion instead of duress…
In the book of Exodus we learn that one of the 10 plagues that whip the Egyptians was the plague of Darkness.
A man did not see his fellow, nor did anyone get up from his place for three days (10:23)
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter explains:
“There is no greater darkness than one in which “a man did not see his fellow”—in which a person becomes oblivious to the needs of his fellow man. When that happens, a person becomes stymied in his personal development as well—“nor did anyone get up from his place.”
This is a time of opportunity! We can already see the christmas lights brightening houses and the streets of our city…
Soon the Jewish people too will be lighting Menorahs as we celebrate Hannukah.
Many faith traditions and cultures focus on light during this time of the year. And so, we pray for those lights to be a reminder of our aspiration to see each other, to engage, to wish each other well, to be generous, and to see the light in each other.
We express our gratitude for the hard work of this council and we pray for its members to be carriers and spreaders of illuminating empathy.
We pray for the members of this council to find that empathy within themselves and with their leadership transform it into the healing kindness that our society so desperately needs.
May this council continue making every possible effort to protect our city, always being mindful of the things that we intentionally WANT to spread in order to achieve this goal.
Amen

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