July 22, 2024
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July 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I was reading an article in Friday’s Record by Alfred Doblin commenting on the controversy about “The Death of Klinghoffer.” While I was racing through the article, I waited to see what he could possibly have to say about an opera that was designed to give credibility to a disgusting example of the dregs of humanity. The creators of the opera, he claims, “do not romanticize terrorists. They humanize them. And this is important, because if we choose to make terrorists into something inhuman, we fail to see that they were once like us and–because they are human–are still like us.”

Though it is very painful to admit it, on some level, he may be right. I have long argued that the Nazis were not animals–they were people like every other one of us, and, unless we realize that it could, and to some extent, is happening again, it will happen again. This, of course, does not justify playing this opera as if it is just another example of the occasional absurdity of art. It is another awful case of the horrible behavior that humans–all of them, including us–are capable of.

But isn’t making terrible behavior inhuman a good policy? As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t believe it is. Who doesn’t hate pedophiles? Or torturers? Or serial murderers or rapists? Indeed, who doesn’t hate the likes of Hitler, yimach shmo, or the countless other examples of the most atrocious of human behavior? Well, if it were possible to count, the number of people who would easily fit into that category would probably count in the hundreds of millions or, certainly over the course of history, many, many billions! So where does that leave us??

I believe that as difficult as it is to even entertain, cruel and sadistic torturers of children and babies, rapists, pedophiles, terrorists and the likes are, in fact, people. And that challenges us to look at people differently. In fact, perhaps those people and all the others monsters that have inhabited or do inhabit the world are, in the final analysis, people! Or at least of the species human being. And that leaves us with two options, which are both necessary. The first is to accept that anything that a human being is physically able to do, some of them will do! There is no brutality, viciousness, or ruthlessness that some human beings will not endorse and eagerly participate in. So instead of continuing to dream that the world will become the way the overwhelming majority of people genuinely, sincerely, and earnestly, wish it would be, we need to stop trying to figure out the impossible and to solve mysteries and conundrums of existence, and do what we were put here to do: to do whatever we can to make the world as good as it can be.

To do that requires that we stop looking at horrible behavior as “inhuman.” We need to start looking at all acts–good, and horribly awful, behavior as conduct and then label it as it is–wonderful, excellent, mediocre, bad, or outrageously evil and ghastly. And then we need to do the most difficult of all, we need to stop judging people who do grisly things and treat them as creatures who are sick, genetically impaired, have horrible histories, or even worse, simply as human beings who have had sometimes difficult pasts (as we all have had in one way or another) and have been in the company of others who have suffered even worse histories. The final possibility is basically seeing them as people, who do or have done horrible things for reasons that no one can ever understand. And then, to do what we need to do to protect ourselves and others–chase them forever, imprison them, or perhaps kill them.

The second thing that we need to do is to stop seeing ourselves and our lives as the most important parts of creation, and our task in life as creating the most comfortable and pleasant existence as possible. Instead, we need to see our presence in this world, as convoluted and impossible to understand as it is, as an obligation to give what we can to others and make it as wonderful as possible–even though we may forever end up with a terribly unacceptable world. It is not our purpose to do otherwise, it is not our concern, it is not our worry. We are simply here to make the world a little bit better than it is or was. And if we truly do it, we will be living in the most perfect of all worlds! (And no, it is never acceptable to present horrible and atrocious acts as “just art.”)

Please feel free to contact me regarding this (or any) topic. You can do so anonymously by writing to [email protected].

Dr. Glick was a clinical psychologist in private practice for 35 years as well as the rabbi of Congregation Ahavat Yisrael in Montreal. If you would like to submit a question, or contact him for an appointment, he can be reached at [email protected] or by calling him at 201-983-1532.

By Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Glick

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