Behave With Dignity
Some things are totally fine to do. Others we know are definitely wrong. But not everything is so "black and white." What should we do when we find ourselves in questionable situation that, while not exactly "wrong," call on us to behave in an undignified way? Should we participate or walk away? In this week's Torah portion, God urges us to always be kedoshim, to act holy. This means to view ourselves as special and act with self-respect and dignity - in short, to behave with a touch of "class." God wants us to realize that as His children, His special creations, we are all very important people and our behavior should reflect that. When we act this way, we will find that we lift ourselves up spiritually, which is a very good feeling.
In our story, a girl makes a choice to behave with self-respect and dignity.
"GRIN AND BEAR IT"
The Annual Alamo County Carnival was always a lot of fun. Sandy and her friends found themselves mesmerized by the sights and sounds as they strolled up and down the colorful, brightly-lit rows of booths and stands.
There were exciting rides, tempting foods, and prize-winning animals and produce from the local farms. There was even a pumpkin nearly as big as a car! Every few feet there seemed to be another game or contest to let you try out your luck or skill.
"That was some roller coaster, huh?" remarked one of the girls.
"I'll let you know after I stop shaking!" answered another with a laugh.
Suddenly, as they turned the corner, a man called out to them. "Step right up ladies. You're just in time for the great watermelon eating contest!" The tall, skinny fellow wearing a striped suit and a long handle-bar moustache, went on, "Everyone's a winner! Whoever enters gets a big stuffed bear and first prize is a deluxe CD stereo Walkman!"
The girls looked at each other and giggled. Elaine, the oldest girl in the group, shrugged her shoulders and said with a laugh, "Why not? Let's go for it, guys!"
The friends eagerly made their way onto the roped off stage that was set with tables of huge slices of deep pink watermelon, and not a spoon in sight.
A small crowd had begun to form around the area, waiting for the contest to begin. Elaine, who had already taken her position at the table, looked up and noticed that their friend Sandy had not joined them. She quickly doubled back and found Sandy standing in front of the nearby prize-winning rose exhibit. "Hey aren't you coming to join in the fun?" asked Elaine.
Sandy shook her head. "I don't think so," she said. "It's really not for me," she added with an apologetic smile.
"Why not?" questioned Elaine. "What's wrong with eating a little watermelon? It's not even fattening."
"Oh, it's not that," said Sandy. "It's just that, you know, the whole idea of going up on stage and trying to stuff my face while everybody looks on and laughs. It just doesn't seem, you know ... dignified."
"Suit yourself," said Elaine. "But I don't see any problem. Besides, think about the prizes. Aren't those stuffed bears gorgeous?!"
"They sure are," Sandy admitted, "and they're just the kind I love. It would really complete my Teddy Bear collection..." She was quiet for a moment as she considered changing her mind. But then she shook her head. "Elaine, you guys go ahead if you want. I'll wait over here. It just doesn't seem like something I should be doing ... prize or no prize."
Her friend shrugged and hurried back to take her place at the contest, which was about to begin. Sandy turned to look at the display of beautiful red, pink, and purple roses. She hoped she had made the right decision.
A little while later, she felt a tap on the shoulder. Turning, she saw her friends. Even though they were all holding bears, none of them were smiling. All of their previously spotless blouses were now dyed a uniform watermelon pink.
"Sandy you were right!" exclaimed one of her friends. "That contest was gross. They wouldn't even let us hold the watermelon in our hands while we ate."
Sandy's eyes met Elaine's. "I admit it - it wasn't worth it," she said. "But the worst part," Elaine went on, "Was that there was a photographer from the Daily Post there. He took pictures and said we're all going to make it into tomorrow's newspaper. I'm not exactly sure I want the whole town looking at a picture of me with my face in a watermelon! Next time, when I want a stuffed animal," she added, "I think I'll just buy it in a store."
Q. How did Sandy feel when her friend asked her to join them in the watermelon-eating contest?
A. She didn't want to do it. She felt like it wasn't a dignified way to behave.
Q. Is it okay to do something really silly and messy in front of a lot of people because somebody dares you or offers you a prize?
A. Not really. Each of us is special and important and we shouldn't really act in ways that makes it look like we're not.
Q. Why didn't Sandy join her friends in the watermelon-eating contest? Do you think she made the right decision?
A. Sandy was tempted to join her friends. She also felt enticed by the nice prizes and she could even see why it would be fun to do something a little wild like entering such a contest on a whim. But when she considered the whole picture she realized that she would be giving up some of her dignity if she did. The rules and the atmosphere of the contest made it practically impossible for a person to enter and remain dignified. In the end Sandy decided that the price was too high to pay. She respected herself too much to do it. She felt good about her decision and after she saw her messy and upset friends she was sure her decision was the right one. Like Sandy we will also be happy when we consider our self-respect before we decide what and what not to do.
Q. What message does someone who acts or speaks in a dignified way give across to others?
A. A person who acts with dignity tells others, "I'm somebody who has value. I won't do something demeaning just because others want me to or I could stand to profit from it." People who act with dignity will be respected by others. In the story, Sandy's friends came to realize that it would have been wiser to have followed her example and not entered the contest.
Q. What are some ways that we can act with dignity and self-respect in our daily life?
A. For one thing, as in the story, when we're eating we can eat slowly and neatly instead of diving into our food. We can also try to speak calmly and pleasantly, avoiding crude language and insults. The way we dress can also reflect our self-respect by choosing a normal, modest wardrobe instead of anything too flashy or "far-out." We can choose friends who respect our dignity as well as their own.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What, if anything, is the difference between acting dignified and acting conceited?
A. There is a vast difference. Those people who act conceited are trying to put others down by acting as if they're superior to them. But acting with dignity is actually a way to lift others up and remind them that we're all important people, children of God who were made in His image. When we act in demeaning or self-degrading way it's not only an insult to ourselves, it's painful to our Creator who wants us to realize how special and elevated we really are.
Q. In your opinion, does behaving with dignity help us to become more spiritual human beings? Why or why not?
A. Human beings are an entirely unique life-form. While we have certain physical activities that we share in common with animals, such as eating, sleeping etc., we additionally have a special spiritual nature that allows us to elevate our physicality. When we behave with dignity, even as we partake in physical activities, we bring out our spiritual natures and become more godly. Sandy, in our story, realized that frantically gobbling down watermelon while others looked on and laughed was an undignified and therefore unspiritual way to act.