Beyond Right and Wrong

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.

Yesterday, an embassy was burned to the ground, another was stormed — and four people were murdered.  People die every day, in horrible, violent ways.  So why is this important?  Because mob-rule, mob-mentality was behind it.  There were, in two different countries, enough people who felt it was not only acceptable, but right to murder and destroy over an amateur film posted to the Internet.

Thinking, feeling, sane people of the world must come together.  We must ensure that no one, ever, feels that an appropriate response to the non-violent actions of a single individual is violence.  I understand that mocking the Prophet Muhammad is highly offensive to Muslims, but it can never be acceptable to murder because of this.  Whatever your religion or creed — insults to equal a response in violence.

These events are even more personal to me because just this week, my sister began work at the State Department in the Foreign Service.  In a year, she, my brother-in-law and young nephew will be posted to an embassy somewhere in the world.  I applaud her service to her country. She and her family shouldn’t have to worry about her family being imperiled because someone has been insulted.

Join me in the field the Sufi Islamic poet Rumi wrote about and that the 21st Century Hebrew Priestess sings about. Let us meet in a place where we can meet each other as people, as individuals, as extensions of the Holy One.  Where the Holy One is beyond names, dogmas or language.


  1. Thank you for a powerful post. This is a subject that I am passionate about. I lead classes in communication as part of my Embracing Conflict: Tools for a Healthier Synagogue program, and it goes without question that so much of our conflict – between people, within sacred walls, in our daily lives – not to mention internationally – is deeply rooted in our skills – or lack thereof – to listen. Listening is a sacred activity. When we listen to each other, truly listen to understand, we are God/ess like. Shema – is so deeply a part of our tradition – as Taya chants…”Listen oh you..who wrestle with God” First then we need to develop the skills and patience to listen ‘to understand.’ Then once we have begun to achieve that, we still have a journey to take… That journey is then to listen mindfully. To paraphrase my colleague Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is ‘moment to moment non judgmental awareness.’ What I believe inhibits our listening is both our inability to be nonjudgmental, as well as our need to to fix, advise, suggest, comfort, or guide. (this posting is continued in two more parts)

    (Second part of my comment) Our listening comes (albeit often from a place of love) with our need to be right, or our desire to help. Yet what the speaker often wants is just to be heard. And for most of us, letting their words ‘live’ while providing a safe space for the listener is not enough. Yet often we need let it be enough…dayanu… Just after a deadly shooting in Brookline, Massachusetts at a Planned Parenthood clinic, the Public Conversations Project brought together a group of 3 pro life and 3 pro choice leaders. In 2001, after meeting in private for 5 1/2 years, the six authored a paper about the process and the insights they developed..The results, I bet, will surprise most of least in part. 1) they realized that after 5 1/2 years each individual and each side was better able to articulate their own position, 2) they learned a great deal about each other’s position and the underlying supports and beliefs, and 3) they realized that after 5 1/2 years they each had become even more entrenched and dug in on their own positions…

    We may never agree, it is in the understanding where we find peace.

    (last section in the comment of mine)

    It was this last point that they reflected on the most. They suggested that what they discovered was that it is important to have civil conversation on sensitive issues, or any issue. That what is equally important is to enter into those conversations with an interest in UNDERSTANDING rather than trying to change the other’s mind.

    When we shift our kavanah to a place of understanding rather than a place of changing minds we have an opportunity to engage in a truly sacred activity…When we take topics that can be violent and volatile and listen ‘to understand’ we engage in a peaceable process..and we have an opportunity to grow, to learn and to understand…

    • Mitch

      Wow. Thank you so much for your thoughtful and amazing commentary! It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance and I hope to hear more from you!

      I hope you don't mind that I combined your three comments into a single one. I think it makes it easier to read, since they appear in reverse chronological order.