This has been a challenging month for me, as it has been for many in the Jewish and Jewish adjacent communities. The War in Israel has cut to the core in ways that I can’t begin to enumerate. Many people both inside and outside of the Jewish community are fragile and overwrought by the scale of death and suffering, and the surge of antisemitism around the world.
This week as we enter our second week practicing Humility, I’m asking myself how much space I should take up. I’ve decided to take a harm reduction approach, and I invite you to join me in this practice. Harm reduction has its roots in drug treatment, and assumes that everyone has dignity, and that sometimes we can reduce harm to ourselves and others even if we can’t or won’t stop using completely.
The idea behind a harm reduction as a Mussar Humility practice is to assume that everyone is having a difficult time, and avoid things that could cause more pain. For example, I have friends who think Israel needs to end the occupation immediately. While I disagree, I am not going to get into it with them. This is particularly important on Facebook or social media. A time will come for us to work out these differences, but now is not the time, and social media certainly is not the place. In fact, I am reducing harm to myself by limiting my time on social media.
This practice is particularly important for me because I have been wracked by judgement, and set off by small things. For example, in a class this week we became “sidetracked” only five minutes into class by a series of questions from my fellow students . I was disturbed, and ready to ask that we “get back on track.” Two things held me back. First, I realized that it was not my place to tell a professor how to run their class. Just because I didn’t like it did not mean it was the wrong way to go. And second, I realized that my objections could potentially upset the professor and my fellow students engaged in a lively discussion. “I don’t want to do any harm here,” I said to myself and kept quiet. After the break the professor shared how happy and excited he was at the participation, and that the content per se was not as important as our collective engagement with the material. I was really happy that I’d kept my mouth shut.
Alan Morinis wrote, “No more than my place. Not less than my space.” Now it is particularly important to be mindful of how much space to take up.