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Slouching Toward Narcissism

Slouching Toward Narcissism

How did we go from being a society that cared -- to one that is increasingly so callous?


There is something wrong -- something very, very wrong -- going on here. Something has happened to Israeli society over the past few years, something that is slowly and inexorably changing the way people relate to one another.

You can see it in the little things, and in the big things, too. It is there when you are waiting on line at the bank, or when you go before yet another lethargic clerk to fill out still another tedious bureaucratic form.

The daily headlines reflect it as well, as burning issues ranging from rocket attacks to widespread poverty to strikes in the educational system elicit little more than a shrug of the shoulders as we turn the page and move on.

As frightening as it sounds, it seems as if the bonds that hold us together as one nation and one people are beginning to wither away.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly when this process started, let alone when (and how) it will end. But it is almost as if the glue binding society has started to weaken, threatening to come undone before our very eyes.

How did this happen? How did we go from being a society that cared -- to one that is increasingly so callous?

The answer, I think, is surprisingly simple, and it can best be summed up in one very short and simple, little word: me.

No, I don't mean "me" as in myself, Michael Freund, the author of this article, but "me" in the sense that each of us has increasingly turned inward, to some extent shutting out our responsibility to one another as Jews.

Values and ideals such as patriotism, Jewish pride and love of country are increasingly being replaced by a narrower mode of thinking, one that is focused far more selfishly on what is best for me, myself and especially -- for I.

How else does one explain our indifference to the fate of Sderot, which continues to suffer near-daily barrages of Palestinian projectiles? Or the lack of public pressure to return Israel's missing servicemen? It is almost as if we have subconsciously adopted the attitude that as long as something doesn't directly affect our own personal daily existence, then it simply does not matter very much at all.

There are thousands of Jews in the Negev living under constant threat of mortar fire? Hey, not my problem, those rockets can't reach me. Gilad Schalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser are all being held in captivity for 15 months and counting? Sorry, but can't you see I'm busy watching TV?

Is this really the kind of society we want to live in? Take, for example, the tragedy of Gush Katif. It has now become acceptable, even tolerable, to throw Jews out of their homes. Of course, just as long as it isn't my home or yours that is under the gun.

Even after Gaza's Jews were expelled, their fate fell out of sight, swept far away from the public's consciousness. I'm not sure which was crueler: forcing them out or forsaking them once they were gone.

Fighting Selfishness

How do we stop this slide toward narcissism and self-absorption? How can we turn back the clock on conceit, selfishness and pride?

Stop for a moment and ask yourself a very straightforward question: What will I do for the Jewish people today?

Here is a little formula that might be worth a try. When you start off your morning, and plan your daily schedule, stop for a moment and ask yourself a very straightforward question: What will I do for the Jewish people today?

Not for the Jewish person staring back at you in the mirror, but for the nation of Israel as a whole.

What activity, what action, what amount of time will you spend doing something, doing anything, for your people today? How you choose to answer this query is not my affair. We must each take an honest look at ourselves, our talents and our abilities and come up with a suitable response.

But just asking ourselves this question each day will challenge us, however briefly, to look beyond ourselves, toward the greater good around us that is so badly in need of repair.

There is so much that is twisted and wrong with our government and the way things are done, that many of us often find ourselves at a loss as to what to do. We want to get involved, we want to make a difference, but it just doesn't seem to matter, as our national predicament only grows worse.

But fending off frustration and doing something focused and concrete is a sure-fire way to start to improve the situation.

For if at the end of each day, we can look back and say that we did something positive and productive for the people of Israel, it will reignite the sense of purpose and meaning that lies dormant within us.

Even if our actions do not appear to have any noticeable effect on the course of events, just by getting involved on behalf of the Jewish people, we will at least succeed in changing ourselves.

And that, in and of itself, is already a step in the right direction.

This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

October 27, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 14

(14) kathee, November 20, 2007 10:07 AM

What we can do

If nothing else, we can pray. God, please bless the Jewish people and strengthen their spiritual community. Please lead us all to better times.

(13) Linda, November 1, 2007 9:44 AM

I know you're talking about Israel,but

It is the same way here in the states, the same comittal of rushing around making a life for ones family or self, and crashing in front of the tv, to watch garbage or play video games, or get on the PC.
There is no time for anyone else in our secular society, Not even the most important person....God.
Our government has the worst rating in a decade, especially congress, your first reaction to what you hear about them is, "Are they stupid, or just crazy". Well they want God out of the government, so He is obliging us.
But it's the same all over the world, the crime and filth get worse every year, God will have to do what He does best, clean this mess up, but we won't like how He will do it, it's going to hurt.
Be looking to Him, He is the only hope we have.

(12) Anonymous, October 30, 2007 10:27 AM

Frustrated and resentful

I think the Israelis are treating the Gush Katif and other West Bank settlers just like the Vietnam veterans were treated in the US. They're sick and tired of the problem, there's no solution in sight, and many are questioning the wisdom of taking up this hopeless cause altogether. Nowhere in the Torah does it say that Jews should lay down their lives for the Land, or even for our holiest places. On the contrary, we learn that G-d poured out His wrath on the stones and wood of the Bet Hamikdash and spared His people.
Apathy towards anyone's suffering is inexcusable, though the problem has to be examined from the root up. Whether The Vietnam war was wrong or right, the veterans were heroes and should be respected as such.

(11) Anonymous, October 30, 2007 5:33 AM

You could fool me about that narcissism

I regularly donate my platelets to the Red Cross. Last week, I dropped everything to donate because they had a patient who was a platelet match for me who was in need, so I made an emergency donation. But I had to wait when I got there because the other platelet donors weren't finished. One of those donors is a lady who donates platelets, a 2 hour procedure, twice per month. The center was also busy with the whole blood donors as well. The beneficiaries of these blood products have no claims on us donors other than the love we have in our hearts for other people. In addition to the donors, there are volunteers who donate their time to help the Red Cross.
Last year I spent time in Israel with the Volunteers for Israel. We chipped in our own money to buy equipment so that we could do the job better. We were all people who had nice homes and nice beds, but we spent two weeks in not so nice army bases because of our love for Israel. The volunteers, by the way, were not all Jewish; some were Christian. Very few of them were Sabbath observant Jews, too.

I don't see all of this narcissism and selfishness - Baruch Hashem!

(10) Rachel, October 29, 2007 1:39 PM

Is davening enough?

Or do we need to do more chesed, donate more money, or just make people aware of what's going on?

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