It’s been my understanding that there is a social contract. The same mechanism that keeps one from asking inappropriate questions: Do you dye your hair? Did you lose a lot of money in the stock market? Are you and your husband separating? Also keeps people from making foolish, if not racist comments, even if they think them from time to time. This action is referred to in psychology as executive function. And we should all thank G-d for it everyday. It is the very same gift that keeps one from giving the wrong answer when your wife asks: Does this dress make me look fat? Having said that, it is also a measure, in its restrictions, of what is considered acceptable behavior.
Recently in the news, reporter Helen Thomas’ comments about sending the Jewish people in Israel back to Germany and Poland was shocking. You’ll remember Helen for her famed front row spot at White House press conferences. She was a longtime Hearst news columnist. Asked for a quote for video being shot at the White House at an event in celebration of Jewish American Month she said, among other things, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” (Imagine the outrage if someone said this about any one particular group in America.)
Even in our own town (and possible in yours, as it was on the wire service) a recent editorial in his ‘isn’t it so sad about Helen Thomas’ article, in addition to the use of seemingly unrelated anti-Semitic quotes as references, suggested Israel’s prime minister could learn a thing or two from the flotilla. One suggestion was: that’s what he should have expected as a result of searching ships. Seriously? He should have expected to have soldiers attacked when they boarded a ship for a search that should have been routine? To put that in context of American culture: How would that play out in customs or even locally at an airport. “No, thanks very much, I will not be going through the metal detector or having my suitcase searched.” Perhaps, said journalist should give that a try and call me from prison to let me know how it went.
So back to executive function: I’m not suggesting that it is somehow better when people are disingenuous; I am saying that what people are willing to say out loud, or in these cases on camera, on line, and in the news media, respectively, are a reflection, a barometer if you will, of what people consider to be socially acceptable, and that’s a little scary. One might be tempted to think ‘not here’. And truly, I have some of the nicest neighbors, but these things ARE in our back yard, even if they are delivered there electronically.
I can’t help but stress the importance of speaking up whenever we see unjust acts and/or hate speech. (Even though I am sure many people do.) I feel like I have been catapulted back in time…I’m too tired of this, tired in my heart and in my soul. In light of these feelings, and in summation, a word often spoken by my young teen students in a moment of disbelief or incredulity comes to mind: Seriously?