Morality, in Jonathan Haidt’s phrase, both binds and blinds. It binds us to others in a bond of reciprocal altruism. But it also blinds us to the humanity of those who stand outside that bond. It unites and divides. It divides because it unites. Morality turns the “I” of self interest into the “we” of the common good. But the very act of creating an “us” simultaneously creates a “them”– the people not like us.

How can we be so good and yet so evil at the same time?

I have always wondered how the Mafia was able to donate buildings and be so helpful to their families, and then turn around and order someone killed.

Humans can be the most empathic and the cruelest of all living beings.

I believe the answer lies in the above quote. When there is an “us” and a “them” it’s ok to hurt them because they are not us.

It was the Germans who needed to call the Jews ‘vermin’ to make them nonhuman so they could justify exterminating us. It’s the same way people kill in the name of religion, by creating the notion that others are infidels.

Now my question is: how do I make peace with the “other” when I’m a Jew? How do I make sure to treat every living being with respect, love, and kindness?

I have come to define religion as positive when it stands as a code by which to treat all of God’s children with love and dignity. The second it chooses to separate, and to make someone less than, it’s not a religion I want to endorse, support, or be a part of.

Judaism reminds us in the Torah– no less than 36 times– that we shall treat the stranger kindly, as we were all once strangers.

God knew that we may use religion as a form of superiority, and God was reminding us to be kind, compassionate, and caring– especially to those who look different, and to those who are the stranger. It’s easy to treat those who look like us and act like us kindly. The trick is being kind to those who don’t look like us or believe as we do. How we treat these people is the ultimate test of our morality and kindness.

I try to live by the motto, “Don’t do unto others what you would not want done to you. Period”.

My question is, how do you deal with people who are different from you? How do you extend to them the same kindness you would reserve for those who are familiar? Furthermore, how do you make sense of the human capacity for both good and evil?

This week, let’s make an extra effort to treat someone who is different from us with an extra dose of kindness.

Accountability, Community, Unconditional Love


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