Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Thoughts on Atonement, forgiveness, decision making and groups

As we approach the holy day of Yom Kippur, I would like to reflect upon some of the dynamics which we often unconsciously take for granted, and what actually are involved in atonement and forgiveness, relative to interpersonal relationships.

What makes human beings unique is our free choice, and our ability to make thousands and thousands of decisions, some conscious and some unconscious daily. This choice is not a question of belief, but rather a statement of awareness and of opportunity. For example one might choose to forgive or not grant atonement to another. Another might be whether one chooses to interact and function in society with others or to isolate ourselves, and even if he chooses to integrate himself into society, does he cultivate relationships and develop friendships, or does he just go through the motions, superficially functioning in order to survive, but still living and feeling very much alone. Either way, though, whether he chooses to isolate himself, living alone, off the grid as it were, or he does live in society, but chooses to isolate himelf, there is no question that he will be lonely, will have difficulty dealing with unexpected decisions and probably will be miserable. As a physician, I can vouch for the fact that such behavior will also compromise his health and lead to premature death.

But let's examine one other choice, this one more subtle and often made subconsciously: If one indeed decides to cultivate relationships does he base them upon reciprocity or on unselfishness. Reciprocity means that one will do something nice for someone else because he expects to get something in return. The problem with this approach is that the first time someone doesn't live up to his expectations, the relationship becomes cautious, later cynical and finally ends. Tragically and unthinkingly, too many relationships are based upon this simplistic and flawed value system, which has the underlying priority message of "what about me?" One need only consider the high rate of divorce and dysfunctional households to confirm how pervasive and insidiously destructive this self-aggrandizement is to the fabric of society.

But there is another choice that one can take to function in society, and this is the conscious decision to integrate chesed (kindness) and gevurah (structure), to act unselfishnessly and engage in acts of kindness. There are two imperatives as to why this is beneficial and works, but they really are both the same: One is because The A-lmighty teaches us that this is the correct way to conduct ourselves and this is why He created the world, in order to bestow kindness, and two, because this behavior promotes a more balanced and harmonious world. When one gives to another solely because its the right thing to do, without any expectation of reciprocity, this creates a new dynamic of freedom, celebrates our humanness by cultivating a mature joy, and encourages forming people into groups and communities. But without forgiveness and atonement, this is impossible. By holding grudges and refusing to give another the opportunity to reconnect, one reinforces an isolation which damages both body and soul.

When considering what decisions should go into forming a group, members of the group need to reflect upon whether each member's behavior best serves the interests of the group. They need to be made aware that their actions must demonstrate an ability and willingness to engage in healthy interaction with the group, pr tp discpnnect.. Choosing to remain connected with a dysfunctional person, undermines the integrity of the group and encourages that member's dysfunctionality, much as a parent spoils a child by threatening consequences, when he acts inappropriately, but then does nothing. When taking apart any team, group or relationship the dynamics are exactly the same when successful. Even in a relationship of just 2 people, each person needs to recognize their various strengths and weaknesses. In successful relationships, responsibilities and leadership roles are delegated based upon the wisdom of the group. BUT THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 2 PEOPLE, A FUNCTIONAL GROUP AND SOCIETY AS A WHOLE--There must be engagement and there must be a balanced distribution of responsibility.

From the individual perspective, it is the wise person, who connects with those that he resonates and harmonizes with, recognizing what he gains by contributing to the group, while at the same time setting and maintaining his individual integrity to protect himself. It is important to consider that group relationships should be flexible, dynamic and unselfish, that there must be a balance between the actions and agendas of each individual, while appreciating the beneficial strength and integrity of the "group". But again, there must remain the opening for healing through forgiveness and atonement when mistakes are made by human error, poor judgement, or even ignorance. Ironically, it is the decision to not allowing for the possibility of forgiveness or atonement, that brings one to the "safety" of isolation, but is that really a desirable goal? Again, will the resulting probable consequences not be misery, depression, and illness? . Alfred Lord Tennyson put it well, when he said, " Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

As we approach Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonements, then, please carefully consider these wonderful gifts which forgiveness and atonement are , as opportunities to celebrate our membership in the community of mankind, and realize that by denying oneself this opportunity, by holding a grudge, one only hurts and damages oneself, like the foolish person who gets mad at an infected toe nail, and in his fury cuts off the toe. If it's sick doesn't it make more sense to heal it rather than cut it off?