You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right


February 20, 2009

Giving the Gift of Love

On Feb 14th we celebrated Valentine’s Day – a day on which we send cards, flowers, and chocolates to let the important people in our lives know that we love them. As I reflected on this holiday in light of Hirschfield's last three chapters – chapter eight, “Learning That You Don’t Have to Disconnect Because You Disagree,'” chapter six, “A Person’s a Person, No Matter How Small: Talking About the Things That Matter Most in the Way That Hurts the Least;” and chapter ten, “Footprints of the Messiah: Turning Our Deepest Dreams into an Everyday Reality” – which focus on staying connected, both to others and to our dreams, it struck me that Valentine’s Day would mean so much more if it were extended.

What if we imagined a celebration that involved giving the gift of love to ourselves and to humanity in general, with a particular emphasis on those parts of ourselves we see as the least valid or likeable (our Shadow) or those individuals/groups with whom we have fundamental disagreements? It is difficult to truly love another if we don’t cherish our whole selves. I believe that the three quotes below both identify the hurdles we face as well as suggest ways to surmount them.

• Without a level of self-understanding that encompasses our strengths and our inadequacies, it is challenging to step into the shoes of another.

“I began to realize that until I was ready to confront myself, I had no business confronting anyone else – that prayer, whatever else it was, was an exercise in that confrontation with who I was and who I wanted to be.” (p. 195)

• Without careful scrutiny of the assumptions that underlie our worldview, it is hard to recognize that our evaluations – positive and negative, of self and others – while authentic, are only based on partial information.

“[I]t may be that what you saw was not all that there was to see. It may be that you are confusing honesty and integrity with accuracy and completeness.” (p. 245-246)

• Without a willingness to accept that people, ourselves included, make mistakes, it is tough to share feedback in a way that comes from a place of love and makes possible transformation.

“Even when punishment is required, it is designed to change a specific behavior or attitude, not to strip a person of his or her power or independence, or to change who he or she is.” (p. 223)

I want to close this entry and the series as a whole with a quote from the final page of the main text of You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right. The set of questions posed in this quote can be the basis for making every day a day a Valentine’s Day where the expressions of love are directed inward, to yourself, as well as outward, to significant others in your life and the world more generally.

“In what ways was I the person I most longed to be today? What helped me to get there? In what ways did I fall short? What do I need in my life in order to do better?” (p. 248)

Thanks for coming along on this journey – I hope that I have helped take you “Beyond the Book”!

Happy reading,

Katherine Hirsh

January 26, 2009

Transitions Peaceful and Powerful

Once again I found that the chapters in You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right I had set out to write about provided an inspiring lens through which to view world events.

Reading chapter five, “Keeping Score: Making Judgments Without Becoming Judgmental,? chapter six, “Mosquechurchagogue: Finding Unity Not Forcing Uniformity,? and chapter seven, “The Bishop of Auschwitz: When the Whole Really Is Greater Than the Sum of the Parts,? in the week of Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th US president, made it abundantly clear that we have the vision necessary create a better future, if only we can grasp it and make it real.

I want to draw your attention to another transition ritual, the Havdalah ceremony described in chapter seven. The Havdalah signifies the end of the Shabbat and the start of the week ahead, and in Hirschfield’s words, “marks a new beginning, an opportunity to reenter the world and reengage in the work of making our world a better place.? (p. 161) He goes on to explain the symbolism of the objects used in the ceremony, and from these ideas I’ve built several questions for you to consider:

1. The flame of the braided, multi-wicked Havdalah candle represents “our ability to create and build.? (p. 163) How, during the transitions in your life, are you seizing the chance to create and build?

2. The smelling of sweet spices calls on us to “[breathe] in deeply and [search] out the opportunities for such sweetness even in the most unexpected places.? (pp. 163-164) Where might beauty and joy lie, if only you were open to sensing their presence?

3. The wine being blessed “does not grow on vines; it requires human partnership to unleash the full potential of all that we find in the world around us.? (p. 164) Who or what is waiting for you to reach out in partnership and what potential might this fulfill?

As in my last post, I’d advise you not to be concerned about whether your acts will have earth-shattering effects, simply be mindful that small steps, if taken by each of us every day, will add up to real change.

I’d like to close with one more quote:

“We will figure out that the challenge is never how to get us all into a single room, but how to build a structure with enough rooms for everyone, rooms in which to live out our lives safely and pursue the happiness to which we all aspire, with the awareness that standing in each of them comes with both challenges and gifts.? (p. 154)

Make of your room a welcoming place and take the risk to explore the rooms of others – inaugurate a new era of understanding and mutual respect where we share both our challenges and our gifts.

January 9, 2009

Victims and Victimizers/Vengeance, Forgiveness, Justice, and Mercy

I had already chosen to focus on chapters one through four of You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right in this post, however the material in chapter three, “The Shadow Side of Faith: Learning That We Can Be Both Victims and Victimizers," and chapter four, “Vengeance, Forgiveness, Justice, and Mercy: Recognizing the Sacredness of All Our Feelings," now feel particularly apt given recent events in Gaza and Congo as well as closer to home.

“Turning personal or national suffering into a source for healing is never easy, but unless that remains our top priority, we’ll be left with a world in which everybody has a finely honed sense of how his particular past allows him to undermine someone else’s future.? (p. 66)

“[The] marriage of justice and revenge is always a death spiral. We know that all it does is give us just enough moral high ground to do to other people precisely what we wouldn’t want done to us.? (p.93)

With these quotes in mind, and, if you have read them, the first four chapters, consider the following questions:

1. What personal issue are you grappling with where you would benefit from letting go of old hurts? Where do you see your nation suffering from an inability to move beyond past wrongs?

2. When have you allowed your desire for justice to cloud your judgment? When have you found room to exercise mercy and forgiveness rather than seek vengeance?

3. Where have you created difference, separation or rejection by labeling others? By labeling yourself? How can acknowledging and accepting difference help you to fashion a more integrated and balanced life?

Note that these need not be life or death concerns, they could be (as on p. 94) sharing your distress and exploring possible motives after hearing a friend’s negative comments, rather than holding a grudge, looking for an opportunity to respond in kind, or pigeonholing him or her as rude and unpleasant.

I’d like to close with one more quote and a thought on resolutions for the new year:

“[T]raditions exist not to serve the faithful, but to help the faithful serve the world. The traditions are there for anyone to use to craft his or her own life.? (p. 51)

As we move into 2009, seek to rediscover your own traditions and make connections with other traditions in order to better “serve the world.?

December 5, 2008

Taking Time to Make Connections

When I first heard about Beyond the Book, I knew that I wanted to participate. The only question was, what book?! I was told that it needed to be current nonfiction on a topic likely to spark enough interest to bring people to both the LearningLife website and a face-to-face book discussion.

As an avid reader, numerous books came to mind. However, what caused me to settle on You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism by Brad Hirschfield was that it had already prompted me to reach out. Indeed, some of you reading this post may recall receiving some rather breathless emails or seeing Twitter updates extolling the wisdom it contains.

What reaffirmed the aptness of this choice was that at a reading by Rabbi Hirschfield, the gentleman introducing him concluded his opening remarks with the very quote that had moved me to broadcast my delight at discovering this book:

When faith simplifies things that need to remain complex, instead of giving us strength to live with complexity, when it gives answers where none exist, instead of helping us appreciate the sacredness of living with questions, when it offers certainty when there needs to be doubt, and when it tells that we have arrived when we should still be searching–then there is a problem with that faith.(p. 9)

My aim is to start a conversation about the value of holding opposites such as these in a creative tension; of embracing that which is appealing and joyful as well as that which is worrisome and painful in ourselves and in our traditions. Thus I invite you to join me over the next few weeks for a discussion exploring :

• being wrong and being right
• safety and certainty and discomfort and doubt
• believing and questioning
• giving and taking
• commitment and openness.

Let You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right kickstart your journey toward a faith and a way of living that arises from acceptance and wholeness, not denial and division.

September 24, 2008

Upcoming on This Blog

Welcome to Beyond the Book, the program that connects you with outstanding authors, U of M faculty, and community experts for live and online conversations about nonfiction books that grab our attention and stay with us.

Discussion. Each Beyond the Book program begins with a four-, five-, or six-week online discussion in which the author/expert will post weekly discussion questions, conversation starters, and personal thoughts. You can read the book before or during the discussion period.

Evening Gathering. Shortly after the online discussion ends, you can choose to attend a special discussion hosted by the author/expert. Here, you'll go beyond the book's pages with great company and new insights.

For full information, visit LearningLife.

You are viewing the discussion blog for:

You Don’t Have To Be Wrong for Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism

By Brad Hirschfield

Program Leader: Katherine Hirsh

Although explicitly about religious fanaticism, this special book will appeal to anyone who is concerned about the increasingly polarized nature of today’s political and social discourse. Hirschfield’s key message is that conflict can be productive when we balance a profound commitment to our beliefs with openness to new ideas and experiences. In this edition of Beyond the Book, psychologist Katherine Hirsh will encourage us to approach differences of opinion in ways that are engaging and effective while simultaneously preserving our authenticity. Perhaps one of the best methods for strengthening our relationships and enhancing our integrity is to understand that while our way is the truth, it is not all that is true.

This dynamic, interactive book discussion will give you a sense of hope and a set of strategies that can be applied to improve your attitude toward conflict in daily life while deepening your sense of commitment and connection to yourself, your faith, and your network of family and friends.

This book is widely available in bookstores and online booksellers.

Free online discussion begins Thursday, November 13, 2008, with new postings each week over the four-week reading and discussion period. Then, join Katherine for a dessert discussion ($12) on Tuesday, January 13, 2009, from 7-9 p.m. at the U’s Continuing Education and Conference Center. This is an ideal time to gather around a book whose message makes a perfect New Year’s resolution.

To get you started, here are a few resources that take you “beyond the book":
The author's Web site has a reading group guide. Interview with Hirschfield on his experience visiting Ground Zero. Windows & Doors: Where politics and pop culture meet 3,000 years of Jewish wisdom, one of Brad Hirschfield's blogs. Another Hirschfield blog, this one based on his radio talk show.
Material that appeared in the On Faith column in the Washington Post.