Hezekiah Smithstein is 16 years old. He lives in San Francisco and attends Design Tech High School. He wrote this sermon for the Temple Emanuel teen service.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” —Lao Tzu
Right now there is a lot of hate and negativity in the world from a large to small scale. Last year alone, all over the world, we have seen acts of hatred in a wide range, from the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, to fighting in Syria, to even issues like sexism in Silicon Valley. White supremacists are fueled by the hateful speeches of our president, acting out against people of color. Immigrants are not only being banned from the country, but current immigrants — who already have lives here as much as we do — are being deported. Experiences of hate and negativity also continue to be found in our immediate lives, in the form of bullying, being shunned, or not feeling important to others. And the hate is also being perpetrated from the side of the oppressed. We find ourselves hating the people that we feel are causing oppression, which only adds more hate and builds more barriers in our society. We find ourselves hating people in the government, hating Israeli conservatives, hating the Palestinians, hating white supremacists — hating the haters. There is negativity surrounding us on all sides.
It is so important at times like these to step back and think about how people come to the point of acting out in hate against one another. Hate comes from a place of fear. We are afraid that we can not be ourselves, that the people we truly are are not accepted in the world. We also fear that there is not enough of what we want or need. We feel we must defend ourselves and because of that we fight with others to get these things. This fear comes from a deep sense of vulnerability. We can’t say or be what we want when there are other people, groups, or communities in our way.
Let’s look at the current immigration situation in our country. There are many U.S. citizens who feel people should not be able to immigrate here, and that immigrants already here should be deported. They are afraid that these immigrants will take our jobs and our homes. But studies show that this is not the case. They are not taking our jobs. Instead, it is their fear of not being able to get a job, and the illusion that they are in competition with this other group of people, that turns these immigrants into invaders. This fear makes them close their heart to families who deserve a place here in the United States just as much as we do. After all, besides the native Americans, we are all immigrants. Immigrants are not, in fact, invaders. These immigrants take the jobs that we wouldn’t normally want such as house cleaning and babysitting. Not only do they take these jobs, but they also add different cultures and a diversity that only adds to the beauty of our country. They are not only harmless, but also actually benefit our country.
The fear and hate in our world is deep. Why are we racist? We are afraid of other races taking our power, wealth, and other things we need to be succeed in our lives. We are afraid that if another race becomes equal with us — which they should have been in the first place — we’ll lose importance in the world. Because we feel like we are in competition with people of other races and ethnicities, it becomes a battle, a fight. The same is true of sexism, with hate against the LGBTQ community, and with hate against different religions. Yet if everyone worked together, we could all be important and have all of what we need to succeed in life. It’s shouldn’t be a matter of one or the other, but instead a question of how can it be both? How can it be all of us?
We see this feeling of needing to compete with others all around us on a daily basis, and often in our immediate lives. When we interact with friends, family, and loved ones we may get worried that we are less important to them than others. When this happens, we see our loved ones as having a limited amount of love and support and friendship that they can give us, and we see others as competition to the amount that we can get. But this is not true: It’s the opposite! When someone receives lots of love and support, they feel better, and are able to give more to everyone they care about.
Ironically, when we are afraid of losing someone or something we often end up doing things because of this fear which make our fears come true. With people we are afraid to lose, we often create a fearful distance. Over the course of the past year I had a friend that I became very close to. We constantly constantly enjoyed each other and spent time together; it was everything you’d want a friendship to be. But when she started spending more time with other people, I got scared that her friendships with others would be more important and fulfilling to her than her friendship with me. I felt her other friends were like enemies to my friendship with her. It began to create problems between us that hadn’t previously existed, but I was the one creating my own problems because of this fear. I realized that the other friendships weren’t in competition with mine and in reality made her happier. With these great friendships in her life, she had more love around her that she could in turn give to me. When the friendship returned back to normal, I realized that it was my fear that had prevented her and the friendship from growing into something bigger and better.
This tells us something about how we can love. That we can we love someone who we think is an enemy, anyone from negative government officials to immigrants to rival friendships. Often we paint a picture that it is one race versus another, one gender versus another, one religion versus another, or one person versus another. But the reality is, we are all human with needs and fears. When we understand where people are coming from and understand the pains and challenges they face, we have compassion and feel love. We realize that not only can we co-exist together, but build on each other to create even more beautiful things in the world.
Compassion is a powerful force that benefits both the giver and the receiver. As a giver, when we truly understand and listen to our enemy, the enemy becomes human and a part of our society. As a receiver we feel important, held, and understood, and therefore able to fearlessly give the best of ourselves. Healthy relationships build off each other instead of taking away.
Going into this new year, it is important to think about how we can co-exist with each other. It’s hard not to see everyone around us as in competition. But there is enough for everyone. It’s time to listen- it's time for empathy. It’s time to create an integrated world where differences are not feared, but celebrated.
That’s the world we want to live in.
Let’s make it happen.
Special thanks to Matthew Braunstein for his help with this article.