A Time to Bend the Earlobe

A presidential campaign, by its very definition, is intended to be a means to an end. Inordinate amounts of time are spent by large numbers of individuals, and astronomical sums of money are raised and expended, in that long and arduous process. However, it is generally assumed that in the long term, all that really counts is what happens on Election Day: who wins the grand prize and gets to occupy the White House for four years.

This time around, experts are warning that regardless of who wins the race, the tone of the current contest can have significant negative ramifications for some time to come.

While mudslinging has been an integral part of American political campaigns for more than two centuries, the combination of instantaneous communication and a degree of malice and nastiness that has surprised even longtime political observers has meant that the American people have been thrust into the middle of what essentially is a crude tavern brawl.

At a time when educators are grappling with the very real issue of school bullying, they fear that the current political climate is sending a very wrong message to their students.

“If students are following this election — and they should be — we have a lot of re-educating to do,” Buffalo school administrator Will Keresztes told the Associated Press.

Much of the rhetoric would violate not only the district’s code of conduct, he said, but the state’s Dignity for All Students Act.

When one leading candidate sought to hold a campaign rally in a school building in Sioux City, Iowa, some students cited their own anti-bullying rules in trying unsuccessfully to stop it.

“Now we have these people that want to be president that are completely turning it around and sending this horrible message to all of America that I’m a bully and that’s how I want to get into the presidency,” is how Kelly Gasior, a teacher at Lorraine Academy in Buffalo, New York, who organizes an annual anti-bullying program at school, put it to the AP. “What are they going to do with the bullying problem that’s going on in schools?”

The educators raising awareness about this problem are right on the mark in an election year when debates seem to be more about who can deliver the nastiest insults than about policy positions or political experience.

Teaching current events to children in a world gone mad is always a challenging endeavor. At least, when it comes to those in the news that are clearly identifiable as vicious fiends, children can be taught that these evildoers represent all that is bad in the world. But when it is a group of candidates who are seeking to claim the title of leader of the free world who are constantly and continuously hurling cruel taunts at each other — and watching poll numbers steadily rise as a result — what message is being sent to the youth of America?

As Torah Jews, we are cognizant of the fact that it isn’t merely the children who are at risk.

All too often, we ourselves don’t realize how much we are affected by the ranting of those who thrive on trying to besmirch and tear down those with whom they disagree, and how much we are influenced by a poisonous atmosphere filled with personal attacks and derogatory language.

The abilities to read and listen are precious gifts from Hashem. It is up to each of us to watch over these presents and ensure — to the best of our ability — that they are used appropriately.

Chazal (Kesubos 5b) teach us that “the reason the Ribbono shel Olam created the whole ear hard and the earlobe soft is so that if a man hears something unworthy, he should bend the earlobe and use it to block out the unwanted sounds.”

Even when we find that we didn’t — or were unable to — follow this vital piece of guidance, we must make it clear in our minds and hearts that regardless of where this campaign will lead, not only must we ensure that those who revel in tearing into their opponents will not be our role models, but that such conduct is antithetical to the basic middos that are a fundamental part of a Torah life.

At a time when laymen and politicians alike have abandoned any pretense of decency and the very air is sullied by the language heard on the streets and airwaves, we must carefully weigh each word that we utter and redouble our efforts to set a high standard of refinement and purity.