Posted on December 23, 2010 by Barer
I have spent my entire life living in the world of formal educational environments. I have learned a lot while doing so, and am immensely comfortable in such a setting. Since high school especially, much of the learning I have been exposed to – Philosophy in undergrad and Pardes – has had a lot to say about how one should live their life in the best way possible. What has not been focused on, however, are the practical steps involved in taking all that theory and advice and living such a life, specifically about using any number of the blessings that I do not fully appreciate and helping to improve the world in whatever small ways I can.
I am davka not a procrastinator, and, morally speaking, I do not tend to rationalize putting off self-improvement in favour of sticking to the familiar once I am sufficiently convinced that a change in lifestyle is required (for instance, my recent and clearly belated decision to become a vegetarian was not easy, but necessary). However, the problem with this specific change – shifting to thinking of my life as needing to include a much more significant time commitment to helping others – is tough because of the very learning that one might think would be helpful in spurring such a change in action. I can listen to all the inspiring lectures I want, and then simply return to life as it was before, feeling like I am making an investment for the future. That is because it is easy for me to say that since I am learning about how to be a better person, I can leave off the doing until I am ‘done’ learning about it. Further, it is extremely satisfying to surround myself with books and easy to delude myself into thinking that knowledge is good for its own sake. Yes, the Social Justice Track tries to bridge the gap, and does an admirable job of it in certain areas. The problem is the same, though, because especially if I am spending my time learning texts geared so specifically to social action, and yet am not acting, I can lull myself into think that I am doing all that I need to.
But I have now taken the necessary step back, and looked at the situation a little more objectively. The conclusion is clear – in order to change, I need to think less about the change that needs to be made and just do it; only through making it a part of my everyday life will it become normal. While I would not even be considering this shift in focus if it were not for my learning, and so it is the learning that has ultimately led me to this point, it is equally clear that my learning can stand to benefit immensely from living some of what I learn, and that it is hypocritical to do anything but combine the living and the learning.
This reflection was indeed spurred by the learning that the Social Justice Track has exposed me to, specifically the talk given at Pardes a month or so ago by Rabbi Levi Lauer. And if you can’t read the caption on the picture, it says “It only takes a single thought to move the world.”