What the Government Shut Down Can Teach Us About Perspective


Editor’s note: In our continuous effort to offer new and diverse insights into life, we are delighted to present a pilot of a new column prepared by our expanded editorial team addressing current events with a twist — their personal relevance to our lives.

Disagreements are common in politics. The Unites States Capitol has seen a fair amount of argument, but when the senate recently got to calling names like “anarchists”, “nihilists”, “extortionists”, and “socialists who want to force their will on the American people”, the Senate’s Chaplain Black felt it was time to intervene, and his daily morning prayer recently turned into a scolding.

Differences of opinion are unavoidable among individuals and they are a fundamental part of human life.  Each of us has our own mind, our own heart, and our own history of personal experiences — all of which contribute to our perspective on any given issue. So what separates healthy disagreement from the behavior that caused the US senate’s chaplain to pray “save us from the madness” and state that “we acknowledge our transgressions” in his recent scathing morning prayers in the senate?

The key to peaceful disagreement is perspective.

As living individuals, each of us has feelings and our own point of view.  When our awareness is primarily focused on our feelings, things that contradict our point of view tend to bother us. Intrusions into our comfort zone can really upset our equilibrium.  Thankfully, as humans we have been gifted with the ability to make decisions and with a little hard work to control our awareness and our mind-frame.

Each of us is privileged to be a part of the universe and to have the opportunity to contribute to it.  Every individual has a purpose, a part to play in achieving the completeness of the universe, and the talents to achieve it. This includes each of us, and it includes all of those around us.

By achieving a state of conscious awareness of the fact that we are one component of an enormous universe, that there is a greater purpose which has many roles that need to be filled, some suit us and some suit others that are very different to us, our feelings become a part of our awareness rather than dominating its entirety.  Suddenly other points of view are not so offensive, and when things encroach a little on our comfort zone we may seem them as a component of a big picture rather than being an annoyance.

We are each a cog in the big machine that is the universe, and all the cogs in the machine need to function for the machine to work.  Some turn clockwise and some counter-clockwise, some might even bang into each other, but they all combine to get the machine to work.

By taking a few moments at a time once in a while to think about the fact that each of us is a part of something bigger, something infinite, we can attain a new perspective.  The subject of our awareness becomes the bigger picture.  We lose some of the limitations that we have accumulated, and we start to live a little higher and a little broader, becoming more tolerant, more agreeable, and all around calmer.

Chaplain Black did not state on behalf of the US Senate “We acknowledge our transgressions…” or pray “Forgive them the blunders they have committed” because there was a difference of opinion about healthcare. The reason for the scolding was summed up in the prayer: “Remove from them that stubborn pride”.

Each and every one of us is unique; intellectually, emotionally, and in countless other ways. No two of us will agree about everything, and most of us will differ on many issues. But we have been blessed with the ability to free ourselves of the limitations of tunnel vision, to broaden our perspective and to live higher and calmer, so when we encounter opposition, as long as we remember that we are all making different, even opposite contributions to the same purpose and we’re all playing for the same team, we can disagree peacefully, remain calm, and retain our respect for each other and continue to respect ourselves.


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Louis Kraus
10 years ago

The best source for teaching people how to speak civilly is the Chofetz Chaim.
Better Outcomes, http://www.getbetteroutcomes.org, will take Rabbi Kagans writings and apply them to the fair amount of argument in the Capitol and the world.

Harry Pearle
10 years ago

Thanks for discussing the Shut down debate. I think it is more than perspectice. I think it is about our willingness to DEBATE without becoming DEBASE. Isaiah 1.17 says: Come now. Let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.

Reasoning and debating, together is not often easy. And with the options we have in todays society, we may wish to avoid it. If I cant agree with my coworker, the temptation may be to avoid the issues, or move to another departments, or another company. But this government debate confronts us with issues we cannot escape from.

In the course of debate, we may win some and lose some and we may have to compromise. But Prof. Daniel Cohen suggests that perhaps losing an argument can be seen as a gain in knowledge. (See his wonderful TED video: For Arguments Sake. Thank you, Rabbi Jacobson.

bob unger
10 years ago

Your article applies only in the case of well meaning adversaries with a common morality.The people in government today [I know many of them] are not well intentioned and have no fear of G-d and not obeisance to the US Constitution.

10 years ago

If only more politicians and others in power could remember this. Not to mention husbands, wives, sons, daughters,brothers and sisters.

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