Friday, October 7, 2011

We Are Our Choices

Tonight begins the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. It is the last day of a ten-day period called the Days of Awe which began on Rosh Hashana. The premise behind these days is to not only think about the wrongs that you have committed against God. But to think about the wrongs you have committed against your fellow humanbeings and ask their forgiveness. For the sins you sin against God you ask forgiveness of God, but for all the wrongs you have done to other people you MUST ask the wronged party.

Now it is not an easy thing to do, to ask for someone's forgiveness. How many of us are actually truly willing to accept that we have made any mistake so bad that we will be forever without grace if we do not ask for forgiveness? I doubt there are too many of us that think that we are that evil. I doubt true evil even thinks that it is evil. Yet we are not the arbiters of how we have hurt someone. Only the aggrieved party knows how they feel. So even the slightest affront needs to be contemplated and rendered moot.

But how is this to be accomplished? Are we supposed to go up to each and every person that we thought we may have injured and ask them for forgiveness? Technically the answer is a resounding "Yes." Honestly its not so practical. To solve this dilemma many of us just give a blanket apology on the internet nowadays.

This is when twitter comes in real handy. Let me tell you. Twitter is so useful for so many things. We share information. Sell products. Promote political agendas. Even occasionally tell others that we are sitting on twitter wasting our day away when we should be at work, school or out in the real world talking face-to-face with other human beings. Now the twitter Gods somewhere may have even thought that their invention could be used for everything that I had mentioned. But I bet the twitter creators never thought that it was a good tool for atonement. Meanwhile me being me...this is the tweet I sent out today:

Yom Kippur: for all those that I may have inadvertently hurt. I apologize. For all those that were total got what you deserved.

Even Stephen Colbert got into the act of contrition with 1-800-OOPS-JEW. Now remember the phone line is not for his saying he's sorry to you, its for you to apologize to him (Colbert is not Jewish but has many Jewish friends whom he was trying to help along in their quest for a successful holiday) is vintage Colbert of course.

I think the reality is though, that we are supposed to sit back and think about who we are and what direction we want to go in our lives. Jean-Paul Sartre once said that "we are our choices." I think in many ways, this iconoclastic existentialist found a way, to boil down the meaning of this most Jewish of holidays. He of course would be very chagrined to know that, as he was an avowed atheist.

At the same token, he wrote a seminal work called Anti-Semite and Jew, at the end of World War Two, so chagrined was he about French society and its complacent acceptance of demonizing the other, "the Jew." This piece discusses among other things society, its relationship to its Jewish citizens and the Jewish citizens relationship to society and the antisemite. As with everything he did, Sartre definitely pissed off someone and arguments still abound about whether in some respects Sartre himself was even an antisemite. I leave no comment on the issue. Read the piece and decide for yourself.

The reality is however, that Sartre was so right. The choices that we make in life are essential to who we are. Now every choice does not have to be earth shattering and every choice does not have to have more than a one second effect, but it adds to the essence of our evolution. For we are always growing, changing and least if you are doing this life thing correctly.

I think the one thing that I think about on Yom Kippur and whenever I sit back and think about the choices I make on a day to day basis, is whether they add or detract from what I hope to accomplish with the boys. What do I teach them? Am I leading by example? Am I a good parent or if I am not the best parent of the moment am I at least trying my best? I try to teach them to always do the right thing, not the easy thing. I try to tell them that who they are greatly depends only upon themselves.

It is not anyone else's responsibility to choose who they are going to be in their lives. It is not anyone else's responsibility to choose what kind of person they are going to be; how good, endearing or forthright. It's their responsibility and their responsibility alone. It's what we have fought for from day one. It's essentially the right of any person to choose their destiny. It's not easy to be so responsible for yourself. It's hard to not blame others for your misfortune or your mistakes. But that is what choices, and freedoms, are all about. What would we do different in life? How would we change things? Do you have the courage to change?  These are all part of the eternal question that humankind has been asking itself for eons.

All I know is that if you don't try to figure out what you hope to accomplish,  you will never know the answer. Understand who you are and what your goals are in life. Acknowledge that in some way there is someone you inadvertently hurt. It is a recognition that we are not perfect. It grows your soul. More importantly understand that we may be our choices, and if I may challenge Sartre; I think that we can also change our choices and hence who we happen to be. Keep growing, learning and exploring. It's the only way to true fulfillment and happiness. It's a human right to strive to be better than we ever thought we could.

So to all my fellow travelers on this earth, Jew and non-Jew alike...the Book of Life closes at sundown tomorrow. May you all be inscribed for a good and happy and healthy year. In Hebrew we say G'mar Chatima Tova.


Until next time,