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Principles for the Next 70 Years

Photo credit: Alpha Stock Images

As Israel reaches its 70th birthday, some will inevitably observe that passing the biblical life span of threescore years and ten suggests that the Jewish state is living on borrowed time. Fortunately, history teaches us that the average life span of a nation state is considerably longer than that of the average human being. But just as, with age, every one of us must take care of our health if we are not to deteriorate and decay, so must the nation state be mindful of its faults and failings and take action to deal with them, before an accumulation of problems poses serious risks to its health.

It is natural and quite correct that a 70th birthday should be an occasion for celebration, and there is plenty for all of us to celebrate. It should not, however, be an excuse to ignore the negative, to sweep the blemishes under the carpet, and to denigrate any critic for spoiling the fun of the party. Constructive criticism is positive, and even essential to continuing well-being.

So while many will rightly laud our achievements, before we all lapse into a euphoria of self-congratulation, let us a spare a few moments to think about what we need to do better. Here are a few points concerning personal behavior, certainly not an exhaustive list and in no particular order of importance, which I address to myself, you the reader, and everybody else; individuals, government ministers, civil servants, trade unions, boards of directors, young and not so young, religious and secular, from all ethnic backgrounds and of all political persuasions:

  • Be nicer to each other. Every interaction should start and finish with a smile.
  • Be tolerant of the other. You may think you are right but you may be wrong, or the other might be right too.
  • Give space to the other, whether it be on the road, in debate, or in negotiations.
  • There are more than seven billion people on earth, most of whom believe in the eternal, so accept that there must be different paths leading to the same good place.
  • Spare time for the less fortunate.
  • Think strategic. Plan ahead.
  • Think long-term. Today's problem may be insignificant tomorrow.
  • Be more humble. Accept that you know less than you think.
  • Be kinder to those with whom you do not agree.
  • Respect those who deserve respect, even when they don't.
  • Check to what extent you are to blame before blaming it all on the other.
  • Accept responsibility for your share of what isn't right.
  • Be flexible in your thinking.

Note that all of the above are phrased in the positive. No "don'ts" here.

Now let's apply all of the above to any situation in which you, a loved one, the other driver, the Prime Minister, your neighbor, your boss or anyone else find yourself/themselves. It could be a dispute on the highway, a demand for higher wages, an 'aliyah' on a busy Shabbat, a refund for an unwanted purchase, a difficult neighbor, a military operation, or just about anything else. However, for illustrative purposes, let's take just one not-so-small problem: the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Sibling rivalry, very common and often difficult to resolve. Itzhak and Ishmael. Promises made to both.

Yes, I have heard all of Itzhak's arguments. Ishmael's narrative is historically wrong. Their intention is to destroy us. They will never compromise. There is no partner for negotiations. They will only respect power. They cannot be trusted to keep any agreement. Give them an inch and they will take a mile. They educate their children to hate. They have no leader brave enough to make concessions. They have no respect for human life. We mustn't show weakness. We were here first. It was promised to us first. We have nowhere else to go. These and other assertions are what a small majority believe to be self-evident truths, and are what define the policies of a government which reflects their standpoint. However, this is actually a formula for doing next to nothing and for maintaining the status quo, based on the vague hope that, in time, the other will concede, forfeit all its aspirations, and accept Itzhak's imposed reality as permanent.

In fact, history also teaches us that, in time, the other has never conceded, forfeited and accepted. From the Roman Empire to the British Empire, long-term survival was never ensured without recognizing that the other has a point of view with at least some element of validity. Ironically perhaps, the stronger has always had to make concessions to the weaker.

Currently, we are nowhere close to reaching a consensus that this is so. Itzhak's arguments dominate, and other voices are drowned out or stilled. The only way this is ever going to change is for us all to internalize at least some of the behavioral suggestions listed above, and in the process transform the fundamentals of our approach to this and every other problem facing our society. We also need to give the other a chance to match this transformation, and we need to persist even if the other does not step up to the mark right away. We have the power and the strength to go a long way without taking on serious risks to our own well-being. It is a process, and will take time, but time is not necessarily on our side and we need to start right now.

Meantime, when stuck behind a slow-moving car in the fast lane, or being tail-gated and honked from behind, or being overtaken at high speed on the right, or having a rare parking spot 'stolen' from under your nose, consider why this is happening to you. Consider what may be motivating the other. Try to find a little generosity of spirit, whatever the provocation. And when you manage to do this, know that you are contributing to the long-term survival of our unique little Israel, and to 70 better years to come. 



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Thursday, 25 July 2024

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