The Jewish view of ‘Nice’ | Opinion – South Florida Sun-Sentinel – Sun Sentinel

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There is a tendency for the over 65 population of South Florida (and senior communities throughout the U.S.) to continually make nice.

Seniors continually strive to purchase and decorate nice homes bordered by nice landscaping, upgrading to nice new cars, indulging in nicely presented dining, and enjoying pleasant entertainments. We marvel at nicely manicured communities filled with nice friends all enjoying nice conversation. What could possibly be wrong with that? Aren’t men and women who have spent the first two acts of their lives delaying their own gratification while struggling to achieve whatever they have become, raising and sacrificing for their often unruly children, and achingly taking care of their aging parents, entitled to a modicum of nice in their ultimate retirement? Aren’t they allowed to enjoy their “Golden Years” eschewing anything that once was or still is not nice?

Yes, of course, but everything has a price tag, and what expense is exacted for this sanitized, “nice” view of their world? Should we even concern ourselves with the dark side of our collective odyssey? Aren’t there two sides to every reality and why should we even care about the downside?

I bring this up because I was recently at a social occasion with many guests of one political persuasion and one couple of a contrasting party of beliefs. The evening started nicely enough with small talk about food, fashion, communal activities, who will be in town for the holidays and who will be away. Pictures of dogs, children, and vacation destinations were passed around, lovely refreshments were served, when the unimaginable happened.

Someone in the group mentioned global warming, Jan. 6, police murders of minorities, a rapidly deteriorating sense of democracy in our country, and the lack of balanced leadership responsible for this decline in civilization.

Conversation became animated, then heated, and then passionate. Voices were raised, accusations were proffered, and finally the opposing viewpoint was no longer being defended and its owner huffed off into the night leaving the remaining assemblage nonplussed. What had occurred? Why couldn’t everything have remained orderly and nice? Was dredging up these realities in the middle of a perfectly nice get together going to solve the world’s problems? Was the risk of alienating any one member of this social group worth the price of not being nice?

I thought long and hard about this event and, as I am wont to do, searched for Jewish wisdom and guidance from the Tanach (the combined Torah, N’vi-im [Prophets] and K’tuvim [Writings]).

I recalled the chutzpah of Abraham arguing with God about Sodom, brothers Jacob and Esau slugging it out, Moses throwing down the two tablets and then hitting the rock, and the price they all paid for it.

I pictured Talmudic students sitting together disputing each other’s perspective to arrive at a higher truth, Crypto-Jews during the Inquisition holding on to their minority beliefs, and Resistance fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto and European forests being anything but amenable and nice. Our heritage is a mixed bag. While we whole-heartedly espouse Shalom Bayit (A peaceful home), we also encourage critical thinking and the expression of opposing viewpoints (however messy) to come to concerted elevated understandings. This Jewish viewpoint is too often in contrast with the preferred plus 65 communal ethos of “nice” at all costs.

If we avoid leaning over the edge of offending polite company by candid talk and thought, we risk becoming dulled, less critical and perhaps even blocked in honestly understanding our world. But if we value untampered starkness and overt conflict over Shalom Bayit, then we become the essence of the negativity we hope to repair. As in all of life, we traverse Reb Nachman’s narrowly dangerous bridge, but here he encourages us to cross it fearlessly and with the best intentions of reaching the other side.

This is a case where the ends can justify the means. If we are only out to one-up the opposition or demean their sensibilities, then we have behaved insensitively and rudely. Apologies are certainly in order and must be generously offered to the offended. On the other hand, if we seek to engage in meaningful conversation that addresses the many short-comings and ills of our society, only to be thwarted by sly avoidance or the fear of mis-applied manners and niceties not prevailing over honesty and integrity, then we shall never reach the intimacy of conversation between Abraham, Moses, and God or even the passionate search for the truth between young Yeshiva boys arguing in their traditional Talmudic fashion. Shall we discuss it or not? What do you say?