Jewfolk: It’s July and the peak of a most unusual summer and things have been getting, well, heated. Between federal, state, and local policies and guidelines around COVID-19, the imminent decisions about the 2020-2021 school year, fluctuating situations with work and canceled spring, summer, and likely fall plans, a whole new way to experience Jewish community in only virtual spaces, the injustice of George Floyd’s killing and the ensuing protests, the upcoming presidential election season; all this sits in a tinder box side-by-side with many folks who are out of their usual life routines or perhaps their jobs and health insurance, folks dealing with mental health issues as a result of any/all of the above, folks experiencing trauma and/or ongoing physical symptoms due to coronavirus, folks deeply involved in or personally affected by the current social justice/Black Lives Matter/Defund the Police movement – it feels a bit like things are about to implode in a big way (some of the anger, frustration, impatience, and exasperation understandably already have bubbled over) and we have observed many an online comment or ‘conversation’ that seem even less nuanced and more vitriolic than any time in recent memory.
A few years ago in another tense time, Jewfolk shared some guiding principles of respectful conversation with our Minnesota Mammalehs group. Because of the time we’re in, we thought it would be useful to share those again as they most certainly can apply now in the heated environment in which we find ourselves this summer. Recognizing that the ancient wisdom tells us that two Jews = three opinions, we offer these seven Jewish values adapted from our Mammalehs group on which we believe productive and respectful conversations can be based- on social media, on Zoom, and at some point, in person.
In that vein, we want to offer some key Jewish values as guidance and reminders for everyone to simply consider as you go about your pandemic, humidity-filled lives in the coming months.
1. Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh B’Zeh (We are all responsible one for another): We are Minnesotan Jews (and those who love us) of all streams of Judaism, abilities, sexual orientations, family structures, financial situations, and more. Please don’t make assumptions about others; in fact, take it a step further and treat others the way you expect to be treated and in that way, carry responsibility for one another.
2. Kavod (Respect): Please speak to each other with respect. Disagreement is completely acceptable. Being dismissive or unkind is not acceptable. Own your perspective by saying things like “I have found…”. “My experience has been…” “What has worked for me is…” or “I strongly believe…”
3. Dan L’chaf Z’chut (Assume positive intent; give the benefit of the doubt): If someone says something that seems inaccurate or offensive, ask questions to make sure you are understanding them correctly and then, if so, share information (respectfully – see above) about why what they are saying is problematic for you.
4. B’tzelem Elohim (We are all created in God’s image): When someone has an identity or experience different than your own, it’s important to listen to them when they talk about that identity or experience and not dismiss or belittle them for being different from yourself. Cultivate a habit of asking respectful questions when something seems unusual or different or like it doesn’t make sense to you. Say things like, “That surprised me.” Or “That’s new to me,” and “Tell me more about that.”
5. Anava (Humility): By all means, share your personal experience regarding your background or world view. However, only give advice when someone is asking for advice. Be humble and recognize that what works for you or what you may believe because of your life experience, upbringing, or world view may not be the case for others. If you aren’t sure, simply ask, “Do you want advice?” When giving advice, frame it in terms of, “Here’s something that works/worked for me!” And not in terms of, “All your problems will be over if you just do this thing I am telling you to do.” Or “Everyone should do this thing I did.”
6. Aminut (Trustworthiness): Please respect the privacy of other commenters and do not shame anyone for their views. Screenshots can be weaponized if they involve an intent to shame, embarrass, or gossip about the members of the conversation.
7. Shmirat Lashon (Sanctity of Language): Words build worlds. Let me say that again: Words build worlds and what you say online may have further-reaching consequences than you intend. Choose your words carefully, and always remember that there are thinking, feeling, fellow humans on the other end of those words. It is not only possible but healthy to have robust discussions on our forums with varied points of view.
We are proud to serve as the Twin Cities’ digital Jewish community and are grateful to be part of the difficult, necessary conversations that need to happen within it. We all certainly feel that the heat of this season of our lives is intense and just really challenging in so many ways. Let’s give each other the gift of respectful, productive, conversation that is (as they say in southern California where I grew up) totally chill.