Wednesday, June 25, 2008

All Pain and No Gain!

This week's mishpacha column

All Pain and No Gain

Sheltering our Children From the Wrong Half

This past summer I went with a close friend to Aspen, Colorado for two days, to recharge our batteries in the glory of Hashem’s world amid the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
On the first day of our trip, as we passed a moped rental establishment, I cajoled my reluctant friend into joining me, and we took two of the mopeds for a few hours. After thirty minutes of riding, I noticed a dirt path that snaked up a steep mountain, and once again used my persuasive powers to get my friend to take it to the top with me, where were rewarded for our efforts with breathtaking views.

One the way down, I simultaneously learned several lessons. First, riding up a mountain is far easier than riding down. Second, mopeds are rather difficult to manage downhill on bumpy dirt roads. Third, it is good practice to listen to a friend who tells you to act your age. And finally, it is rather excruciating to have several dozen pebbles imbedded in the palm of your hand.
In the emergency room of the local hospital, a doctor offered me several methods for the treatment of my hand, but strongly advised me to tackle the problem head-on and select the most painful option. This would involve peeling back the shredded skin, removing the larger pebbles with forceps and scraping the area with a brush to get rid of the many tiny ones. With a wry smile the doctor informed me, “Rabbi; no pain, no gain.”

That doctor’s sage advice can be applied to the arena of addressing communal issues as well. For when we are faced with significant klal challenges, we have the option of dealing with them squarely, or we can chose to merely manage them in a superficial manner without subjecting ourselves to the short-term pain that addressing them properly would entail.
When challenges are tackled directly and effectively, a temporary rise in the level of communal discomfort usually occurs. During that period, many people understandably feel that the proposed solutions are far worse than the original problem they are purported to solve. But, over time, a reduction in pain and a far healthier community invariably results.
Allow me to share an example with you: When a girl becomes very ill or worse as a result of anorexia, chas v’shalom, parents of teenage girls in that community who suspect that their daughter is anorexic reach out for help. A percentage of the girls will actually have eating disorders – upping the numbers of reported kids with such conditions. (This does not mean that more girls came down with eating disorders, only that the awareness caused more of them to reach out for help.)

But, then good things start happening. Schools bring in specialists to speak to the kids. Girls become more self-aware of their own eating habits. Peers eventually become informed enough that they can help their friends who are bingeing and purging. Eventually, eating disorder rates drop significantly, as the short-term publicity results in the long-term benefit of awareness and the creation of solution-oriented programs, that remain in place as the pain of the publicity subsides.

I mention this because, as I see things, many of us – with the best of intentions – are not discussing critical klal matters in our public squares because we want to protect the innocence of our children and the reputation of our community. Moreover, some take it a step further and accuse individuals who do discuss them of ‘charedi-bashing,’ “He never says anything nice,” or worse, discouraging or intimidating people who deal with these problems on a daily basis from speaking out. But we are merely shielding our children and kehila from the wrong half – the beneficial side – while leaving them completely exposed to what we are trying to protect them from. (I am most certainly not suggesting that we abandon our efforts to shield our children from the decadence of society. Only that we teach our children the lessons learned when distasteful events already have become public, rather than pretending that they didn’t happen.)
When abuse cases or drug arrests that are widely reported in the secular media, are not discussed at all or glanced over in our papers, we have the worst of all worlds. We are not really accomplishing our goal of shielding our kehila and teenage children – especially with exponentially growing digital communication. Our adults, even in the most heimishe circles, are reading about it via email and the Internet – often written by individuals who have a jaundiced view of our kehila – and those who don’t use the Internet are hearing about it from those who do. It is entirely possible to keep young children sheltered, but many or most of our teenagers hear about these incidents anyway from family members or their peers in school. So what we have are swirling bursts of information and misinformation which generate a growing sense of discomfort and “Human problems” cognitive dissonance among adults and kids. All the while, the suppression of this information and the personal attacks on those who dare to discuss them, means that far too little of the ‘good stuff’ – the things that could help prevent these issues from recurring, such as awareness or prevention programs – are happening.

Going back to my moped story; engaging in the ‘airbrushing’ of distasteful news and not teaching the lessons learned from them, is analogous to asking my doctor to leave the pebbles in place and painfully pull the skin over the stones to cover them. You know what the result would be – infection and far worse. All pain and no gain.

It is my fervent hope that moving forward we will usher in a new phase in our collective dialogue where we – excruciatingly but with steely determination – face our challenges head-on and seek to improve things for our children and grandchildren.
Recommended reading:
“He Never Says Anything Nice”
“The Monster Inside”
Safe and Secure
Human Problems

Yakov HorowitzMenahel, Yeshiva Darchei Noam of MonseyDirector, Project YES

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