Don't Be An Idiot
As a lover of pop culture, I enjoy the moments when a cultural offering speaks to a reality of life. I love it even more when a silly comedic character speaks a powerful truth. Dwight Schrute, a main character on The Office, is just that sort of character. In this quote though, he captures a timeless piece of wisdom.
This week, Governor JB Pritzker of Illinois framed part of his commencement address at Northwestern around this quote. Check it out here. He discussed the importance of having an idiot detection system to walk through life because often, the cruelest and most condescending people around you are the least smart. On the other hand, the kindest person in the room is often the smartest.
This spoke to me on a deep level. In a world that is sorely lacking in kindness and is instead filled with powerful people who wield nastiness and cruelty like a cudgel, how can we learn to cultivate a culture of kindness? One way is to turn to our tradition which has at its helm, a God who is רב חסד, overflowing with kindness.
You might recognize that phrase for being one of God’s 13 attributes. Its listing makes an appearance in the parshah this week when Moses is appealing to God’s kindness to spare the Israelites from punishment. Commenting on this aspect of God’s make up, the Midrash Tanchuma (Pekudei 3:17) teaches the following:
“When the Holy One contemplated fashioning humans, God said to the Torah: Let us make humans (Gen. 1:26). It replied: Master of the Universe, the person You wish to make is of few days, and full of trouble (Job 14:1), and they will sin. If You are not forbearing, it would be better that they should not come into the world. God retorted: Is it for nothing that I am described as slow to anger and plenteous in loving-kindness (Num. 17:18)?”
The Torah itself doesn’t want God to create humans because of our fallibility. God’s response? It is my very kindness that will allow me to create them, be in relationship with them even when they screw up, and then bring them back in. In other words, kindness is the very base upon which the world is created.
As we are tasked with living and being created in the divine image, it’s a message worthy of reflection. Many in our world are heading to summer camp where welcoming in a new camper or lending a helping hand to someone struggling can make a world of difference in someone’s life. Or maybe you’re traveling somewhere and interacting with all sorts of folks that look different than you. Choose kindness; it takes less energy.
In a world that seems to reward the loudest, cruelest, and dare I say in a Dwight Schrute kind of way, the most idiotic, may we all learn to double down on kindness and see what wisdom that brings us.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend!