I was born in Israel. At age twenty five I migrated to the USA and have lived here ever since; more than half my life. Raised Jewish, Judaism remains my ancestral heritage, even if I, myself, after years of experiencing different paths, have chosen to practice Taoism; a path that has no structure, no doctrine and no God.
When I occasionally visit Israel, it is rare that I would not repeatedly hear from family, friends and even complete strangers — such as a taxi driver who decides to engage me in a conversation about my whereabouts, that it is time for me to permanently return to my “real” homeland, to the Holy Land, to Israel. When I explain that I do not deny my Israeli roots, but that I feel as much as an American today as I felt Israeli when I lived in Israel, that notion is quickly being discarded. I am given a multitude of reasons that include anything from threats – “just wait and see; it is only a matter of time until racism will sweep the USA, like it did Europe less than a century ago, and then you will be running, not walking, back to your real homeland,” to temptation – “you know that Israel today is much more technologically advanced than the USA. Why not settle back in Israel and enjoy a higher quality of life?” Whatever I say in reply seems to fall on deaf ears.
Similarly, when I meet Jewish people who learn that I am of Jewish decent, but do not practice their religion, a somewhat a similar attitude entails. It is explained to me that I should proudly partake Judaism as it is the superior religion, a bright shining light for all others to follow; and that if I do not, I am contributing to the diminishing of my own heritage; and so on and so forth.
After such a recent exchange, it suddenly dawned on me that all those urgings, all the confrontations I am subjected to related to my life choices, are not at all about me; it is all about the other person, the one presenting the arguments. In taking a path different than that other person, I am putting his own choices in question and thus poses threat. Look at it this way – you go to the movies and see a film that touches you deeply. Coming out, eyes tearing and all, you call your best friend and recommend the movie to him. He goes to see it and reports back that he utterly disliked it. How does that make you feel? Why should you care if he didn’t like it? Maybe it is because his negative judgment makes you feel like it is questioning your own.
The same principal applies to just about every choice we make in life – from what we eat, how we dress, what sports team we cheer, whom we date, and what career path we select. Whatever it is we decide to do, we immediately get included in a small (or large) tribe that in turns becomes a cult. If I used to be a fan of the New York Jets and I switched to the New York Giants, my fellow sports cult members will see me as a traitor, not because of my choice but rather because of how it affects theirs. If I marry an African-American, I may be shunned by certain elements in our society critical of interracial relationships, as my choice may put theirs in question. And if I used to drive a Prius and, God forbid, switched to a Hammer; oh boy, the hell tree-huggers will give me… You get the drill.
Thus, it was an enlightening moment to understand that when other people argue with me about my views, choices, values and stands, it is not at all about me; it is all about them. This makes it so much easier to relax during an argumentative discussion, smile, agree and then do anyhow whatever it is that I want. After all, all they are seeking is validation for their own path; wanting assurance that I will not come out to the street and announce that their emperor is naked. And what better assurances they can aspire to than if I accept their stands, or, even better, becomes a convert…
I, for my part, continue to subscribe to live and let live.
Learned from: reflections on a conversation with a friend.