Monday, August 2, 2010

Why Are People So AFRAID?

Is it my imagination, or is the klal becoming increasingly hesitant of speaking out against errant ways they feel the tide (definitely no relation to T.I.D.E.) is turning? The need to fit in, or more correctly, the fear of expressing a minority (or perhaps silent majority) opinion overrides their personal beliefs.

Have the religious leaders and the men appointed by them to carry out their wishes, begun instituting and relying upon a culture of 'control through fear'?

I see this time and time again. People who are very upset about one issue or another in the Jewish community, but are fearful of speaking out. Fearful that their children will not be admitted into the "right" schools, fearful that their daughters will not be offered the "right" shidduchim, fearful of being labelled a trouble maker and being subsequently ostracized.

When did honest and open dialogue L'shem Shomayim (and I do believe that the majority of people on all sides of the issues are working L'shem Shomayim) become taboo? When did all but the most right wing opinion become something to be only whispered in darkened rooms? Why are people so afraid?

Case in point #1: Kindly respectable gentleman who has been wearing a white straw hat to shul in the summer for the past 30 years or so suddenly stops. Why? When asked privately, he admits that he is concerned that it may be affecting his 22 year old daughter's shidduch prospects (TRUE story).

Case in point #2: Recent, ongoing issue with overpriced chickens in my neighborhood. Many people come over to me and solicitously tell me where they buy their chickens and how much they pay. I ask them if they addressed the issue with anybody in a position to correct the problem. Sheepishly, though they admit to not paying those prices and taking their business elsewhere, they affirm that they haven't spoken out.

Case in point #3: Working and learning father of a large brood dutifully sends all of his sons off to Lakewood. As they marry in quick succession, with no secular education or training, the father is forced to take on more and more jobs, barely sleeping, in order to support his growing list of dependents. Finances are quickly spiraling out of control and eventually the community must bear the responsibility. But he feels he MUST follow this path without question.

People admit to wishing things were different but feel they have no power to affect change and are unwilling to paint what they perceive will be a target on their backs. Whether the threat is real or imagined, they are afraid.

How did this begin?
Where will it end?
What can we do about it?


Anonymous said...

The reason for all this is people are afraid that society will look at them different. i live in lakewood and i know first hand that people dont go out to work because of the stigma of young guys going to work there and forget a guy who's not married who goes to work. plus in lakewood it really pays to be in kollel (not that bmg pays) because if you work you must be so rich that you dont get any brakes in tuition or camps but if you are in kollel you get a discount for everything. and about the straw hats my father who is in his 50's remembers that members of the moetzel gedolei torah wore straw hats and now its not accepted in society to wear straw hats in the "yeshivishe" circles.

Joseph said...

Great post to start the day. There is some real food for thought here.

While I can easily see a connection between cases (1) and (3) (fear of shidduch consequences and yeshiva/parnassa issues) are these issues related to more generalized fears of rocking the boat that are at the center of (2) (food prices)?

It is an interesting idea to think about.

You asked-
How did this begin?
Where will it end?
What can we do about it?

How did it begin? Probably there is some relationship between these issues and the rise of the Yeshiva world within orthodoxy. Yeshiva and Kollel study have become the norm in many places. Replacing a parnassa oriented education. And, the rise of the Roshei Yeshiva as distinct from shul rabbis.

In the past - Most yeshivot were connected to particular communities and their roshei yeshiva were often also communal leaders. Now, The yeshiva world is ascendant - roshei yeshiva are increasingly distant from the issues of the local communities. We have bifurcated the function of the rosh yeshiva and the communal rabbi.

I wonder if this issue is even larger than implied by your original posting. Is it some sort of "communal fear" that has allowed child abusers and domestic abuse to be swept under the carpet rather than outed forcefully? Is it this same fear that perpetuates stigmas against drug and alchohol abuse, mental health issues, and even divorce?

While I don't think these issues are completely related - I think the solutions lie in "open dialogue" and that open dialogue is stymied by this "communal fear" that you have identified.

I hope we can overcome such fears and face our issues directly (whether they be small or large).

FBB said...

I understand that it is possible that someone in a position to do something could probably do something about the chickens, but essentially the people taking their business elsewhere are certainly taking a stand. It's economics, and if people won't pay the price the price will come down. Though in the case you do run the risk of the store opting not to sell the product at all.

Why are people so afraid to have the courage of their convictions? Because so much of these outer trappings have become wrapped up in a pseudo frumkeit, that just allows people to look down on others, because they can proclaim to be better or frummer. NONSENSE. Wrapping garbage up, but calling it religion, is still garbage.

And really? Not wearing something for shidduchim, just tells me, that those trying to look so "frum," have taken G-d out of the equation. (I know, I know, I'm not there yet and just wait, and I'll see), but if we truly believe that he's the ultimate shadchan? The hat makes no difference.

Courage of our convictions, and if that conviction is that G-d makes the matches, I'm willing to make that "mistake."

Anonymous said...

I am afraid to speak out on this issue. :-)

Sandee Hier said...

This is a very important issue and I look forward to seeing the other comments. Thank you for having the courage to raise it!

Here in Los Angeles we see this less, but it is still a big problem -- most among the very frum, obviously, and those who need to "fit into" that world, whether for shidduchim or financial reasons.

It's sad, I don't know how it started or how to overcome it, except the courage of the few brave souls who keep wearing the straw hats.

Thanks again for the thought-provoking post, and for all your great work here on the blog!!

Sandee Hier

WAdsworth3 said...

This is a difficult issue. From my vantage point it is not very pervasive, it is just that people are apathetic. Why take the time to complain out loud when all people want are cheaper chickens - and those chickens can be had for less elsewhere.

The one, big, million dollar, exception is shidduchim. When it comes time to shadchan off a child, especially a daughter, people are in total fear of not being seen as frum (or wealthy) enough. You would think that if all the "not frum enough" folks just married among themselves...

My suggestion is that people (parents and their 20 year old kids) loosen their dedication to convincing the shadchan to send them the perfect shidduch. Searching for a mate other ways, and being prepared to wait (gasp) a year or two certainly diminish the power of - and the fear imposed by - shadchanim.

Alternatively, perhaps one could start shadchaning for families who don't feel the need to "play the game." For the children of those parents who proudly work, wear white straw hats, and don't mind being seen as less frummed out.

Sorry for the semi-coherent rambling.

Yekkishe Bekishe said...

I wonder what Rav Breuer Z"tl would have commented about the situation? I can almost guarantee an extremely pithy bonmot(sp?) would have been said!

BTW, can you imagine if they had compulsory Bechinos in Beis Hamedrosh & Kolel? Rav Frieler Z"tl - his 13th Yahrzeit was yesterday - tried to do this, but the grumbling of the imported Kollel people was too much for the Bechinos to continue.

Anonymous said...

In broad terms politics is polarizing...thus on the right, the party line is ever more machmir. Just look at the conversion issue in Israel. While on the left egalitarian issues continue to push the envelope.

These trends are accelerating making a middle ground somewhat more difficult to keep.

People feel this without needing to think about it. So people often fall into one camp or another. People on the left (say in Avi Weiss's HIR) are probably afraid to say they are uncomfortable with women's ordination, for the same reason that people in KAJ might be afraid to send their children to an MTA or Flatbush for High School.

Its all a matter of perspective - and unfortunately staying true to ones self in the midst of societal pressure is never easy. But it becomes increasingly difficult as the middle ground erodes.

G6 said...

Great, thought provoking comments so far. I look forward to reading and learning from more.

Welcome Joseph and Sandee. It's always a pleasure to have fresh input from new commenters.

FBB, your comment about garbage is priceless. That said, I have seen many people cave to community pressure when shidduchim were (perceived to be) on the line.
I have always felt regarding shidduchim, that (to reverse a famous quote) I wouldn't want to be part of any club that wouldn't have me as a member. If you're going to change in order to gain acceptance, you'd better be prepared to live the rest of your life (feeling like) a fraud.

Anonymous 12:27 -
You bring up a very interesting point. I think shoring up that "middle ground" (from both sides) is vital.

Naftali said...

The only real answer is to be true to yourself and to do what deep down you know to be the right way.
It's not easy to stand out from the crowd, but if enough people have the courage to do it they won't have to stand out for too long.

Baked Lecho Dodi said...

Why are you so afraid of people being so afraid ?

question said...

"Kindly respectable gentleman who has been wearing a white straw hat to shul in the summer for the past 30 years or so suddenly stops. Why? When asked privately, he admits that he is concerned that it may be affecting his 22 year old daughter's shidduch prospects (TRUE story)."

Perhaps it has been affecting them for the good??? Stay the course!