Our Obsession With Politics
How many hours a day do you spend reading, watching, discussing, and writing about Politics?
One of the most interesting results of the social media movement has been to give everyone a voice. No longer do we only receive political commentary from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. If you have an opinion, you now have the opportunity to share it with a few thousand people. You can get it published to an even larger audience through twitter, facebook and a bunch of other social media platforms. So much opportunity. The ability for every person to have an audience is certainly something to applaud. But I sometimes feel uneasy about the obsession many of us have.
I’m all for having a pulse on the politics of your country, being educated about the issues and even campaigning for what is right. But I sometimes get the sense that discussing the changes that ought to be happening out there in the world is a cheap substitute or alternative for the real difficult work of life. Could it be that by obsessing over the things that we can’t control we are subconsciously avoiding the things we can, or worse, denying our ability to change things within our own lives?
In psychology this is a theme that is front and center and seems to pop up everywhere. Rollo May, a brilliant existential psychologist lists as the 1st presupposition of personality health the belief in freedom to choose how I want to act or react to a given situation. A prominent theme in psychology argues that effective therapy includes creating an “internal focus”, helping the person focus on the things they can change in their life and not just using the therapy space as a place to complain about how bad everyone around you is. Finally, Nathaniel Branden, the “father” of the self esteem movement, listed self responsibility as one of the 6 pillars of self esteem and defined that as “the practice of owning one’s authorship of one’s actions and of owning one’s capacity to be the cause of the effects one desires”.
Politics are great. Choosing sides on difficult political issues can help clarify your values and sharing your vision to a larger audience than your wife and children is certainly commendable. But it’s important to ask yourself – Is this an escape from working on my own issues. If I stand for something virtuous in politics could it be I feel less guilty about my lack of virtue in my personal life? Your politics need to be a natural outgrowth of your own personal integrity not a substitute.
I have seen too many people who were extremely passionate about policies of extreme kindness and yet after a few minutes of conversation it becomes clear that they have major conflicts with the people in their lives who are closest to them.
Self improvement is difficult for so many reasons. One of them is the fear we have of losing our identity if we were to change. The paradox of the human mind is that we often are unhappy with our present self and yet would rather stick to the familiar than to attempt any real change. The fear of the unknown is quite strong.
But breaking our nature is one of the hallmarks of being a Jew. The Mussar movement of the 1800s was an attempt to focus sharply on character development and to develop self-awareness that could help identify the real source of one’s behaviors and actions.
There is a famous story that is said about the great Rav Yisroel Salanter. He stated that when he was young he thought he would change the whole world. When he got a little older he thought he’d at least change his country. Later he thought he’d change his town, his family or his disciples. Finally, he said he’d be happy if he just changed himself.
Conventional wisdom assumes Rav Yisroel was becoming more of a realist over time, lowering his expectations with the wisdom of life experience as his guide. But I think that is all wrong. I think Rav Yisroel was actually recognizing something much more profound. I think his epiphany was that changing yourself is actually more difficult than changing the whole world. He was not lowering his expectations. He was recognizing just how difficult personal growth is. It’s always impressive to have sharp insight and clarity of vision. Using that vision to create plans for a greater world is incredible. But to change a middah, to focus inward and face yourself with that same keen eye, is truly epic.
One final quote from Mother Theresa, a person who had an impact on global politics and understood better than most the ability to change the whole world. Yet from that vantage point she had the following words of wisdom to share- “What is the greatest thing you can do for world peace? Go home and love your family”
Jonathan “Yoni” Sonnenblick LMSW, M.S.Ed is a sought after Rabbi and Therapist. He has been teaching for over a decade and counsels young adults. Yoni specializes in assisting people with anxiety. Yoni also focuses on depression in teens and adults as well as helping couples with different parenting styles navigate their differences.
If you’d like to contact Rabbi Yoni, or you’re interested in reading more. Please check out his website HERE