It has been a crazy busy month for me, mostly in a good way. Today I sent off the final corrections for The Spiritual Practice of Good Actions, which goes to the printer July 1. September 8th will be here before we know it! This book launch has a lot of meaning for me, and I continue to struggle a bit with concerns about the outcome. I fear success and failure equally. It is a great week for me to be practicing Trust, for Trust reminds us that we cannot control the outcome, and most things work out well.
I was moved to write today after reading a wonderful article by Marjorie Ingall in Tablet Magazine called “How To Be a Better Ally.” It lists 11 ways to be a better ally to the LGBTQ community, inspired by the tragic events of Orlando. It is so cool to see Jewish checklists for being a Mensch.
Many of us are not sure how to be helpful, supportive, or empathetic in the face of tragedy, even more so towards a minority and oppressed community. For example, Ingall suggests that post Orlando, to “call your LGBTQ friends and family.” She quotes someone who explained how surprised she was “how much it has mattered for my straight friends to reach out and see how I’m doing.” As a result, I reached out to a gay couple close to me to check on them, and they were very appreciative.
Ingall’s list reminds me of a list created by the medieval philosopher Maimonides explaining how to visit the sick. Visiting the sick is a commandment, but it isn’t as straightforward as it seems. Lets face it – it is intrinsically uncomfortable for many people to go to a hospital. We do not want to be reminded of our own frailty. And, we often are not sure what to say or do. Maimonides put together this practical list over 800 years ago, explaining the right way to visit a sick person. His suggestions include:
- Do not stand over the person – sit on a chair or the floor to try to stay at eye level, but do not sit on the bed
- Leave your own issues at the door. Enter the room with a smile. When my family first learned this rule, we translated it into “Don’t Bring Me No Bad News,” a great number from The Wiz.
- Be realistic, and don’t be Pollyanna about the person’s condition. Take your clues from them. You are there to bring support and comfort. If someone is on hospice, clearly it is not the time to talk about them getting better.
- Bring something if you can
Visiting the sick is a core part of practicing Loving-Kindness. Remember that we practice Loving-Kindness through acts to sustain others without expecting anything in return. Ingall’s list of ways to be an ally also falls into the category of Loving Kindness. For example, she writes “don’t expect a cookie for being an ally.” You are there to support someone else’s humanity. There is risk in being “out” as an ally, which is why it is an act of Lovingkindness.
In summary, we are not born knowing how to act in every situation. The more outside of our experience, and the more intrinsically uncomfortable the situation, the more we can benefit from lessons and guidance on how to act like a Mensch, a person of outstanding character.
I love lists like this. Sometimes if feels like I need to make every socially awkward mistake until I learn. I am very happy to have a checklist with pointers to prevent me from stepping in the dodo.
Know any good checklists for being a Mensch? Please share below or on the American Mussar Facebook Page.