Saturday, November 8, 2008

All Mankind is NOT Equal

Thanks to Orthonomics where this recent post got me thinking along the following lines. Hachnasat Bar Mitzvah Bochur

No less an authority than the US Declaration of Independence had the following to say: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

There are any number of people who think they are quoting these famous words when they say "All men are equal." Fact #1: all men--mankind--are not equal. There are among us those whose talents and abilities place them in an elevated position Vis a Vis the rest of us. There are those among us whose ingenuity and hard work also place them in an elevated position. There are people whose ability to make money, and thus to acquire those items that cost money, puts them ahead of other people monetarily. There are some people who simply are healthier, wealthier and wiser than other people around them. No amount of saying it shouldn't be that way is going to change the reality, a reality that is not new to our times but that has been with us almost from the beginning of our recorded time. What the Declaration does say is that all people are created equal; there is no inherent class system that people here are born into, a class that they can never get out of, as is the case where caste systems are used.

Keeping up with the Joneses syndrome loses sight of the fact that we aren't all exactly the same. If the Joneses have something then I am entitled to have that something too is how the reasoning goes, because otherwise we aren't all equal. If the Joneses make a mega-bucks bar mitzvah or wedding then we are entitled to do so as well, because otherwise equality is damaged. i don't know quite when or how this thinking came about, but it is highly skewed thinking. What I do know is that it is somehow related to the part of the quote above that refers to "the pursuit of happiness."

For many people it is not "the pursuit of happiness" that they see as guaranteed to us but happiness itself. When they see the happiness the Joneses have they believe that they are entitled to that same happiness. No, they are not. They are certainly entitled to pursue whatever happiness they wish to attain, but no one ever promised them that they will actually get whatever it is they are pursuing.

I know people who are monetarily far wealthier than my family; I also know people who have less money than my family. So be it. My husband and I did not steal whatever money we have nor did we unfairly "cut the line" to get more than what was coming to us. Everything we have we have worked for, and worked hard for. When we had less we made do with less. We saved and we budgeted, and if we have things now there is nothing "unfair" about it. We went out in pursuit of happiness, a happiness we defined for ourselves, and procured for ourselves. Neither my husband nor myself have a particular taivoh for Jones-ism. It always flummoxes me, however, when some people perceive us as members of the Jones tribe, and are disgruntled because they don't have what we have. My hubby and I have, for the past few years, gone away together on vacation twice during the year. Someone this last summer made a comment that "I don't know how you are managing to take so many vacations," and she wasn't being admiring. Talk about being flummoxed. What, pray tell, do my vacations have anything to do with anybody else? I'm not asking anyone else to pay for them, and I'm not taking tzedaka from the community to pay for them either.

When I read or hear that parents who don't have the money are going to be making a mega-bucks bar mitzvah for their son because otherwise their child will be perceived as different, as somehow not as "equal" as the other children, I am really floored. Where is reality in this kind of thinking? In Klal, as in the outside world, some people have more money than other people do. The spending of that money, and the desire to spend like those who have the money, has nothing to do with equality and a great deal to do with kinah.

Frankly, I'm thinking that Klal, or at least a whole lot of members of Klal, needs an attitude adjustment, and fast. Yes, if someone is starving, if someone has no place to live, if an emergency arises so that basic living expenses cannot be met, then we need to help out those people. But not being able to make an elaborate bar mitzvah does not constitute an emergency to my way of thinking. Not being able to buy expensive furniture and other expensive furnishings when first getting married does not constitute an emergency. Being "forced" to shop second hand or in bargain stores does not constitute an emergency. We need to spend a lot more time being appreciative of what we do have and a lot less time looking into everyone else's pots. We've set up some mindsets of entitlement that are eating away at our communal fabric.


A Living Nadneyda said...

This is one area where (I'm hoping) the approach in Israel is slightly less skewed, at least in many places. Yes, there is definitely an aspect of hosting weddings and bar mitzvahs on a level beyond what one can afford... but I suspect it's not always linked to "Keeping up with the Jones." Here there is a tendency to invite the entire extended family, or the entire moshav (where the extended family often lives) because that's very accepted practice in the Middle East in general, and in Israel specifically.

But I'm happy to report that within our community, people have had smachot on all levels, and I don't feel that people are embarrassed for doing less or more. Some hold parties in their back gardens, with do-it-yourself catering (or part professional, part neighbors & family), while some hire the hall and go all out. I love the variety, and the fact that people feel comfortable doing what they can afford to do. Within their budget, each family succeeds in making their celebration one-of-a-kind and truly representative of their family style.

(Also, I am happy to report, girls' and boys' bnei mitzvah are celebrated on the same level -- not a given in all places).

Anonymous said...

I was away for Shabbos and the Rav of the shul where I was davening gave a shiur in which he was talking about how it is not correct for some members of Klal to be raising kinoh in other members. Someone at the shiur asked him if that meant that no member of the shul or community should come forward to give a huge donation or build and name a building. He backtracked and said that was not only fine but was expected but he was referring to lavish simchas and big houses and expensive cars. Then someone else asked why the emphasis shouldn't be on people's not having kinoh of others to begin with. Why punish those who can afford what they spend by saying that others may be jealous of them? He sort of waffled around that question and finally just said that kinoh seems to be a part of human nature and it's hard to control so we should start at the top and work our way down. Seems backwards to me. Isn't that what sameach b'chelkoh is about? Being satisfied with what you have?

Anonymous said...

It isn't just jealousy that's working here. Every where you go there are ads pushing you to buy. They are in all the media, they are on buses and on billboards and on signs when you walk in the street. The message you get everywhere you look is that you HAVE to have whatever they are pushing. Now add that to seeing that other people have things that you don't and you can feel as if you aren't doing what you are sdupposed to if you aren't buying. I'm not saying it's right but it's really hard to get away from the message that you have to own certain things.