Monday, November 29, 2010

The Danger of Cynicism

A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. - Oscar Wilde

Reb Ally had a very thoughtful post about leitzanut a few days ago. The only thing that I would like to add - for effect - is this observation:

I have seen quite often people who try to give off an air of aloofness. They maintain a stance as if they are "thinking out of the box" and that their commentaries on the Jewish community are merely satirical, meant to bring out a point. While humor can be an effective vehicle for mussar, that is not the case here.

While it is certainly possible that some of the online "satirists" have good intentions, it is my belief that they are doing more harm than good. Satire stems from cynicism, which ultimately serves to undermine any set of beliefs, no matter how rock solid. Worse, I have noticed that people place great emphasis on so-called "irreverent" personalities - people who are unafraid and unimpressed by power and importance, and say whatever comes to mind without any concern for whom they are speaking to. Rebbe Nachman's story The Sophisticate and the Simpleton is built on such a premise, and we know what the chochom's end is.

What's so great about being irreverent? When I was a kid, we called it chutzpah, and it only got you a sore bottom; nowadays, it means that everybody hangs on your every word, to hear what outrageous thing you'll say next (and that's subject for another discussion: how real are those friends, anyway?).

My main issue with those who would "poke holes in the tapestry" of Jewish living is that there really is no positive outcome from their shenanigans. Even if there were a kernel of truth in their "social commentary" (admittedly, there often is), what do they propose we do to fix it? It doesn't take great wisdom to point out the flaws in a community, but rather to provide solutions.

Years ago, my own blog was a platform for complaining about perceived weakness in Judaism. But I quickly learned that this was not the way to go about affecting change; if I wanted things to be better, then I had to start brainstorming myself, and take a little initiative. Like Reb Ally said, we need to focus on spreading light, not just whining about the encroaching darkness...

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