Life is funny, when everything is “normal”, when the sun is shining and there are blue skies overhead, most people find it relatively easy to be kind, generous and patient. But when “normal”, either individually or collectively, is disrupted our ability to think, much less act, at our best is tested and challenged. And when we are placed under unexpected stress, how we respond can be either incredibly beautiful or ugly beyond words.
In the preceding 10 weeks we have experienced 2 “hundred year” storms that have impacted not only the daily routines but the lives of those in the path of these weather events. And while some of us have been affected to a greater extent than others, collectively these circumstances have touched each and every one of us as members of not only our community but as members of greater society. In the aftermath these two “anomalies” I’ve encountered both generosity and selfishness. On the one hand, the vast majority of people have responded wonderfully; I’ve witnessed concern and caring expressed in a multitude of ways, from people help each other clean up to opening up their homes and businesses to friends and strangers alike. On the other hand I’ve heard accounts of people bullying utility crews in an attempt to speed up the restoration of their own service as well as stories of people harassing elected officials because of what they perceived as an inadequate response to their own needs.
How we respond to the routine or extreme stresses that each of us encounter should not be left to happenstance; our responses should be purposeful. Our equanimity can be cultivated. To that end, our forefather Rabbi Hillel posed 3 core questions that remain as relevant today to all people, regardless of their faith, as they did to our ancestors 2000 years ago:
- If I am not for myself then who will be for me?
- If I am only for myself then who am I?
- If not now, when?
Taken independently, each question poses an intriguing consideration. But it is when the 3 questions are considered together and applied without exception, without caveats and non-selectively that they present a path to peace and prosperity through mutuality, commonality and accountability.
Certainly some would argue that in 2011 it is impossible to do this at all, much less all the time, life is too complicated, issues are too diverse and we are, after all, only human. But that is precisely the point; being human and living in a world with 7 billion other humans is very hard, crowded and highly competitive. We can leave it at that and let fear and anxiety dictate our actions or we can choose the other path, the path that transforms each and every moment of each and every day of our lives into a test, a challenge and an opportunity to be better than we are at this moment. And if we truly desire a life defined by peace and prosperity then it is the purposefulness of our own actions that offer us the only chance of our actually achieving it.
With the greatest respect.