Jewish Journal

Can We Please Start Over?

Screenshot from Twitter.

We are born unique, complex, imperfect.
Into the universe of nature, often moral, often unjust.
Into society, where we must sign a social contract to survive.
We are individuals, continuously striving to retain our individuality.

The first social unit we encounter is our family.
We desire acceptance but also crave respect.
The second is our religion, race, ethnicity.
Often, these add to our unique identities; sometimes, we are subsumed by them.

Next: School. From an early age, we try desperately to fit in, to be liked; it is here that we
first face the harsh realities of social acceptance.
We are cruelly pushed out of some groups and just as arbitrarily pushed into others;
parental pressures only add to the pain.
Our ability to navigate these early social rites informs how we deal with group acceptance
for the rest of our lives.

Finally, our political party.
Up until recently, aligning oneself with a political party did not create an impervious line
in the sand. Republicans and Democrats argued, to be sure, but they also could
socialize, see humor in their differences, compromise.
No more. The two groups hardly interact, and within each party, one must maintain
rigid conformity to a strict party line — The Orthodoxy — or you risk being publicly
humiliated.

I may agree with you on some issues, disagree with you on others. But unless you try to bully me into submission, I respect your right to your opinions, even if I find them odious.

Individuality, on both the left and the right, is dying; tribalism rules; obedience reigns.

Tribalism begets extremism; extremism begets hysterics. Social media lit the final match.

Can we please start over?

I am unique, complex, imperfect.

I may agree with you on some issues, disagree with you on others. But unless you try to
bully me into submission, I respect your right to your opinions, even if I find them
odious.

I don’t care which party you belong to; I don’t care which religion, race or ethnicity you
identify with. Unless you try to force me to follow your way of thinking or living.

I may try to get you to see an issue the way I do, but I would never bully you. We have lost
the distinction between arguing and bullying.

Issues are often complex; embrace the complexity. Totalitarianism offers instant
security; resist it.

Question dogma; rebel against irrationality.
Be brave but civil; break boundaries but remain decent.
Relearn to tolerate difference; to take comfort in diversity; to listen.
We each have the ability to create bonds of compassion, to sow seeds of accord, to bring
light back into the darkness.

But first, we need to reclaim our individuality.
I am unique, complex, imperfect.
I try to honor my quirks, idiosyncrasies, opinions, to let them inspire my dreams.
Heterodoxy: I think for myself; I don’t need the validation of others.

I am not a political party; I am not a group identity; I am me.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.