Our world, and the countries that make it up, has become deeply divided. There may have been a time in history during which people could come together and discuss specific issues facing a community or a nation in a civil way. Today, the issues are too complex. To relieve the complexity, there is a tendency to bundle issues together and to define one’s opinions as part of a general set of tendencies. For example, labels such as “progressive”, “conservative”, “liberal”, “Republican” or “Democrat” now carry with them the implicit assumption that, by identifying as one or the other, an individual has a consistent set of responses to every issue. The bundling of issues in such a way may make life simpler, but also results in not having to read too much or be a critical thinker, and leads to unnecessary conflict.
I have beliefs around gender equality, LGBTQ rights, Israel, human rights, racism, health care, reproductive choice, educational quality and more. When I go down the list, my opinions do not follow a strict “party line”. I have never pulled a lever in an election to vote a straight party ballot. And when there were online “tests” during the last presidential election to assess which of the candidates I most closely aligned with, I pretty much confused the algorithm, resulting in several candidates that I could conceivably vote for, but no clear recommendation.
In any case, as a rabbi and a nonprofit executive, it is important that I do not endorse candidates or parties, so having a set of beliefs that don’t easily conform easily actually works well for me. But, while I don’t endorse specific candidates, it is important that I take stands on the issues that have clear moral imperatives. Admittedly, it is a fine line, but here’s what governs the matters I go public on:
- Integrity of public officials. Expecting candidates to keep every campaign promise is pointless. I don’t necessarily vote based on candidates’ views on issues, as much as I look to whether they are individuals of integrity with clear values. And once in office, I will take a public stand if I feel they are betraying a public trust.
- I care about the United States of America. It (and a few states) supported my education, has been keeping me safe, and continues to provide me with opportunity. Trash it, and you’ll hear from me.
- I will absolutely go public in support of Israel’s aspirations as a secure, democratic state, and one that I would like to see taking the moral high road.
- Human dignity (“in the image of God”) is a moral absolute for me. Whenever I think it’s under attack, expect a response.
- Respect and menshlickeit (being a decent person) matter. I won’t accept trash talking, bullying or insults in the public domain.
That’s about it. If I appear too silent at times, I may be trying to defend my organization’s tax-exempt status. But silence does not always mean acquiescence.
What are your hot buttons for responding to issues?