The Corona Virus: What are We to
Learn? Post 1
The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn? Post 2
The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn? Post 3
The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn? Post 4
The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn? Post 5
In my last post on this subject, I described the present reality that people are indeed taking this matter seriously and, as such, are attempting to approach this issue with consideration and thought. People are thinking about how to respond to Covid-19 and this is good. The problem I also identified, though -- as is often the case when confronting complicated situations -- is that many do not consider the certain complexity of the issue. As a solution is, as such, not easily forthcoming, the result can be an abundance of simple answers which do not reflect the true depth of the matter and can even create more problems. We can be left with a bottom-line based solely on the arguments - I'm right; no, I'm right. The result is but solely a dogmatic fight between warring factions, each promoting their insufficient solution to the problem.. A further lesson we should be learning from this situation is that we are all on the same side and that such a fight is the worse possible response to this type of problem. In that the true best solution to this pandemic would be beneficial to all humanity, this situation may actually provide us with an excellent opportunity to learn how we really should respond to problems.
What do I mean when I say that a matter is complex? It is that the various different considerations we must contemplate in order to properly respond to a problem may all have a place in the solution even as they may also be somewhat contradictory in nature. A simple response to an issue involves choosing one position or another. The matter is defined as black-and-white with one option being the correct choice and the other option being the wrong choice. When it is obvious which of the possibilities is the correct one to choose and which is the wrong one, a simple answer is then, indeed, possible. A difficulty emerges, though, when there is a disagreement as to which of these choices is actually the correct one and the answer is not really so straightforward. The argument may still, however, remain solely which choice is the correct one.
This problem is then exacerbated as this issue continues to still be seen as a simple one demanding but a choice between two seemingly black-and-white alternatives. The answer may actually be that one choice should be dominant in certain circumstances while the other choice should be more dominant in other circumstances. The answer may not be black-and-white but involve the evaluation of different meshings of the ideas presented, under considerations based on a thorough recognition of the circumstances. This is complexity and it demands a further level of thought which many actually wish to avoid. As such, there can be intense pressure to try to continue to define the matter and the choice as simple. This, however, is truly what is not necessary.
Working in the realm of simplicity and black-and-white solutions allows people to follow their emotions, to accept what they like. Thought can challenge an individual, force one to reconsider ideas that have even become inherent to one's personality. Having to face complexity can, as such, become a challenging experience. It is not just the intellectual difficulty of the further demanded study which would impede one from continuing but there is also the possible confrontation with one's own identity which may ensue. There are reasons why people wish to avoid complexity. It indeed makes decisions -- including moral and ethical ones -- much more difficult. The reality is that, in so many situations, arriving at the proper decision or decisions is indeed most demanding.
Striving to maintain the simplicity can thus become part of one's goal. It is then not enough to just present one's opinion but it becomes necessary to further argue that the other view is absolutely wrong and has no validity. In situations where there actually is a battle between two forces, such a response is somewhat understandable. In wartime, and peace is not a possible, true option, it is understandable that, as one wishes to further the position of one side, the other side may be portrayed in the most negative of ways. A perception that the other side has some validity would only lessen the necessary commitment and energy for the fight. The caricature presentation of soldiers of the Axis countries during the Second World War flowed from this recognition. There could be no opening to allow one to have doubts about the validity of the Allied cause. Such caricature presentation of the other side is, however, obviously problematic when there is some merit in both arguments, when a peaceful solution is actually possible and provides the best solution. The demand for simplicity still, however, promotes such caricature. Opposing forces are defined with each side declaring 'we're right and you are wrong', 'we are good and you are evil.' Dialogue and further study are, in themselves, attacked. As dialogue and further study are actually most necessary in responding to a complex situation, this is clearly not just a problem but dangerous.
This pandemic should cause us to see through this type of erroneous response as the very development of opposing forces on the many issues involved should obviously be seen, in this case, as an indication of a challenge of complexity and thought. The goal is the same for all -- for all humanity to respond to this pandemic in the most productive way. This should bring us together and cause us not to see the opposition as attacking us but as presenting another view which we should also consider in the overall evaluation of the issues. It's not us-versus-them so why are we behaving as if it is. It is all of us against the circumstance of this virus and the subsequent call should be to come together to accept the complexity of the matter in order to find the best solution that serves all of us.
This, unfortunately, though, is not necessarily happening as it should. As it is with many modern issues, many individuals are so committed to their emotions and a need for simple solutions, that they prefer the fight even as working together is the real answer. We should rather be learning from this virus that unity in confronting a common adversary such as this virus is really the only true solution. As we develop different perspectives on an issue, the call cannot be just to pit one against the other. The greater call, arising from the actual complexity inherent in this Divine Creation, is to see how this divergence actually comes together in the reflection of the One God. The greater call is for us to come together, for the realm of ideas to come together, through the intensity of true thought, in a unified solution that truly serves all.
The classic statement from T.B. Eruvin 13b of Eilu v'Eilu Divrei Elokim Chayim [These and those are both the words of the Living God] does not mean that every viewpoint inherently is correct. There are views and positions that human beings have invented over the centuries which are clearly wrong, even evil. This also does not mean that when a viewpoint has value, it is inherently equal to all other viewpoints. What this statement is declaring is that given the complex nature of God's Creation and Torah, many views -- even as they may seem contradictory to each other -- do have value and should be recognized as such. The formulation of how these positions should then be balanced in the solution that brings them together to serve humanity is actually a task which God then left for humankind to solve applying wisdom including, of course, the Divine wisdom of Torah. Of this we must be reminded as we absolutely must come together to respond to a problem, such as this virus, which affects all of us.
Rabbi Ben Hecht