CSM Sam Yudin, CA ARNG
How does one navigate when it appears that nearly everybody in positions of power or authority seemingly do not adhere to the values and principles they profess? They abdicate their responsibilities and are derelict in their duty. They are so bold as to repeatedly declare falsehoods that are laughable, if only times were not so serious and the statements are so verifiably untrue. They violate every value, standard, and law they are responsible to uphold without fear of recourse. It would be human instinct to become disillusioned, dejected, and cynical.
These inclinations, however, are destructive. This type of thinking is poison for the mind and soul. It will pollute everything downstream. The solution is found in the choice to focus on what we can control. It is unfortunate that people we rely on have made such irresponsible decisions, but we cannot control their actions. We can—and must—control our thoughts and our actions.
What do we need to think and do then? When there is a deficit of goodness, it becomes a target-rich environment to bring good into the world. You do not need to look for an opportunity to do a good deed. The opportunity presents itself as soon as you open your eyes. Doubling down on our commitment to do the right thing and recommit to strengthening our adherence to principle, values, standards, and kindness is the antidote. This mindset and action will purify the environment around us, soldier by soldier, unit by unit.
But how can we do this if this is the worst time in history? Well, it might appear that things are the worst when they happen around you, but context will prove this is not the case. Despite the ills of our society and total lack of decorum, there has actually never been a better time to be alive than now. The quality of life for everyone—including the world’s poor—increases exponentially year after year. Every year millions of people are lifted out of poverty by economic and technological progress. That is little solace if you are in the extreme, but again, focusing on what you can control will allow you to improve every situation.
Picture two lifeboats full of survivors from a shipwreck. The rough seas cause both ships to bob up and down. When one ship is at the apex of a swell, the other might be at the depth of a trough. Within seconds, the situation will reverse. Before long, the storm will pass and the seas will be calm. There are highs and lows in life, just like in rough seas. We would do best to remember this and ride them out the same way until things are calm.
There have been thousands of times in history when times were much worse. We do not recognize this because we were not there to experience the pain. That is why on Passover we declare Avadim Hayinu, we were slaves, to connect to the pain that our souls experienced so long ago. Are the moral and ethical failings of those in power today any different than those in Sodom and Gomorrah, ancient Rome, during the atrocities of the 20th century, or at any other time in history? This state of affairs is unfortunately part of human nature and free will. Are we to attempt the impossible and fight the force of the tides or expect the water flowing over a cliff to defy gravity so that the water from the river below shoots skyward like a geyser? Of course not. All we can do is recognize the situation, think rationally, squash destructive emotions, focus on what we can control, improve our circumstance, help people in our sphere of influence, and put everything in context.
Keep calm, keep focused, and keep spreading goodness and values. In this manner, we will all make the world a better place every day step by step together. It’s the only way forward.
Originally published in the Chanukah 2021 issue of the Jewish American Warrior.