This was ingrained in me as a kid. It’s a part of what we were taught by our community of teachers. It’s part of what we were taught about the realities of World War II and what happened to people just like us during the holocaust.
Now in my 50’s, I never thought I’d be recalling some of these childhood memories of temple life, Sunday school and the Jewish communities I grew up in — with the frightening clarity of relevancy. The lessons we learned came from a mix of ancient sacred texts, documented evidence-based findings, and the oral teachings of respected witnesses and elders. As community members we each carry these histories inside us at a molecular level. Who are we? Where did we come from?How do we fit into the world around us today?
One of the strongest lessons I learned from those days was how each of us could build; how we could lift-up the community, through selfless acts of service to others whoever they are. We learned to do a “mitzvah.” We learned we had a powerful place where we could be “good citizens.”
My stint in the Boy Scouts was short-lived. I have vague memories of working toward getting badges and little yellow beads. I recall a crafting project that was actually the beginning of the end of my experience with them. We were learning how to make Christmas angels out of old Reader’s Digest magazines. Somehow, learning life survival skills and being a good citizen was being warped by another’s organized religion influence. Was this just a simple activity for a group of kids or something else? When I look deeper, recall more, and I can see elements of conquering Christian imperialism, an attitude of “we get to do this and if you’re not one of us, you don’t,” “this is ours, not yours.” It was very them vs. me — or them vs. us when you consider that my father stood up for what was the right thing. Age and wisdom allow me to see it now, to see what my parents may have seen then. It was one example, or one cup full being poured into a sinking boat that felt like it was being bailed out using teaspoons. To my parents this did not feel safe or inclusive.
Our television exposure was limited growing up, although I must admit to being somewhat enthralled by it—when I wasn’t enthralled by my Matchbox cars, Tonka trucks, and by the natural world around us. I loved watching shows like Spiderman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Lone Ranger, The Brady Bunch, and The Munsters. What resonated with me really was any episode of any show that had a hero or had lessons about doing kind things or doing good for others. Watching these t.v. shows, felt like I was learning something important. They weren’t perfect and these shows didn’t represent everyone well. I was a white kid, watching shows developed in a different cultural time where re-engineered history served the economics of systemic racism. Through my lower-middle-class, Jewish, white privileged eyes what stuck with me were the parts where there was something safe and socially responsible. At least I thought so, in the reality I had shaped around them.
Recently, I developed a growing habit of seeking out some of these shows from the past. Today, these shows offer a needed break from the socially irresponsible constant barrage of news coverage of what’s spawned from the dark spells of Voldemort’s leaky cauldron, which is now sitting in the place of the Resolute Desk.
Where is all this going? Somehow along the way I have managed to hold on to the lessons that helped to shape the values within me that I carry within my soul. These are values that I hope all healthy-minded, healthy-hearted people share. They are the deeper ones. The real ones that I think we all carry within us through the ages like: truth, honesty, love, honor, integrity, service, safety, freedom, joy, connection, peace and good citizenship. At the same time, I have managed to filter out what doesn’t fit for me. No matter the source, I get to choose what’s mine and what’s not mine. To do this requires a thinking brain connected with a thinking heart.
It’s a swirling vortex. And yet I can stand comfortably in it. I can stand with my feet well-planted when I simplify and connect to the values that I have named and chosen for myself.
What is this “citizenship” value that I hold up in the midst of this vortex? Clearly, I’ve been thinking about where I learned this from. Somehow I suspect I learned this from a combination of sources. I must have learned this from community, from family, from culture, from friends, from teachers, from books and even from well-intended television programming. Whatever it is, I like the value of citizenship.
Herman Munster offers 12 Life Lessons.
Wherever I learned this from I have never lost it. I carry these values with me. They are at my core. Sometimes I do need to reconnect with them. Especially when it feels that somewhere along the way the community around me has been drinking from that evil leaky cauldron.
However our community got here, we are here together. Here in the U.S. we are a mix of cultures and ideals, of success and massive failures that began the moment Europeans crossed the Atlantic and stepped foot here. What was once ideally thought of as melting-pot never really quite managed to cook through. We see it now more than ever as the once worldwide respected Oval Office has been converted into a lair of disgrace and iniquity, while the American Ideal falters. And we see it more than ever as selfie culture overruns a citizenship culture we had begun to build together.
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
JFK – Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
Where do we turn when we feel like our values are not being honored? Using my value of “good citizenship,” what do I do about this being stepped over? To protest – certainly! Violence – well this is super, super hard to justify. Dare I say leadership oriented, thoughtful conversation and debate?
I have a few places to go and few choices to be in action. First, I can go and be with the man in the mirror. The conversation begins right there. I am a citizen of my self, of my home, of my neighborhood and community, of my country and of the planet. It begins with the brave commitment to honor my values and to use my own ability to think (something else I value).
Once I am working this path of self-authority, I will find myself at informed choice. In that moment of choice I will reconnect with my values and make a commitment to notice the impact I have on the world and my responsibility toward it.
To me that means that I commit to wearing a mask whenever I go out, I will be polite and well mannered, I will do mitzvahs every day, I will learn about anti-racism and white fragility, I will listen, I will speak up and say what’s going on, and I will vote to protect the American ideal set forth in the Constitution. I will do my part.