Paul Andersen: What the world needs now is “tikkun olam”
Serving veterans as executive director at Huts For Vets has taught me two key things. First: strive to be nonjudgmental. Second: offer love as a healing balm. Neither one is easy because, by nature, we’re prone to judgments, and love is an abstract, if many-splendored, thing.
Veterans of the war in Vietnam were horribly judged. They were hated and spit upon. Their healing was not allowed because there was no love. Since that war, more than three times the names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington have taken their own lives.
Today, the veteran suicide rate hovers around 22 per day. Isolation, despair and moral injury attribute to that grossly high number, a mournful metric that is not only a national crisis but a national scandal.
For the men and women veterans who have served in Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, many suffer moral injury from violations to their deepest selves. Part of our role at Huts For Vets is to enable them talk with other veterans and realize they are not alone. Atonement comes from acceptance and forgiveness.
Our world needs healing. Such an understatement stands out by the acquittal last week of the sociopath who took America to the dark side. Those who voted for acquittal stand on the brink of nihilism, where nothing is sacred.
Such depths of national cynicism incite the hate-filled message of a death threat T-shirt: “Rope Tree Journalist…some assembly required.” Such gallows humor, if you will, is apparently amusing to psychopaths enabled by the sociopath who cheered on the mob to act out his willful insurrection Jan. 6.
Encouraging hate and violence should be repugnant to anyone with human decency. And remember, death threat targets can be changed by just filling in the blank.
Have we back-stepped so far into the Dark Ages that murderous intent can be so visibly displayed? I’m feeling this acutely because I’m a journalist. I am the target of a hate group that would incite lynchings. Their hatred has targeted me.
Until you are in the crosshairs, threats seem removed and impersonal. For many veterans, being in the crosshairs was an occupational risk from which they now seek reentry into a society that doesn’t know how to value the risks they shared.
Society fails them and the rest of us by perpetuating a debased culture that glorifies violence as popular entertainment. Here lies stark evidence of moral failure in education, religion, family and commercial media.
A Hebrew phrase, “Tikkun olam,” offers a vital shift with a directive to heal the world, to become an agent of change. Each of us must bear responsibility, not only for our own moral, spiritual and material welfare, but also for the welfare of society.
A modern understanding of tikkun olam explains that we share a partnership with God and are instructed to take steps toward improving the state of the world by helping others. This brings more honor to God’s sovereignty by affirming human dignity.
I’m not usually prone to religiosity, but something of the divine must intervene when nihilism threatens common decency and the sacred respect for life. Laws and policies have their place, but the moral heart in each of us must ultimately steer the course of society with spiritual guidance.
Tikkun olam is an aspiration to behave and act constructively and beneficially, to work charitably and altruistically. A higher, nobler purpose is necessary to dissipate the hate and animosity that leads to printing death-threat T-shirts.
Fixing the world must become a socially embraced goal, a way of life for each of us. It begins with attention to every interaction, every word spoken, every gesture made, every thought contemplated. It begins with awareness of how we can improve ourselves and improve the whole.
These are fine, high-sounding words that my fingers spill out rapid fire over the keyboard. Taking them seriously requires sitting back, pondering, assessing, taking honest accounts of ourselves and modeling positive behaviors and attitudes.
Tikkun olam means reinventing ourselves with constructive building blocks. Only then can our individual contributions aggregate into a whole that might truly fix the world.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org