Repairing the world

Tikkun Olam

It is said that the creation of the world was left incomplete, this was done we are told to allow each of us to help complete creation by our constructive actions. Whether one subscribes to that perspective or not few would argue that the world needs as much help as possible. The world needs to be a better place for human beings. The question thus arises, are we responsible for the state of the world, if we are then we each must decide what each of us will do?

People who choose to work and contribute for the betterment of (any) others and the world whether it is through their jobs or not, are psychologically and emotionally healthier, more accepting, peaceful, caring people. At the school Gemilut Hasadim saved many children from being lost or helped them find themselves. I often used it as a tool to help troubled, angry, lonely, disconnected and confused children find a small illuminated place in their hearts and minds. If we are going to have to search better to search in a place where there is at least some light.

The thing about making the world a better place is that it does not require of us to only do monumental things; quite the contrary it is the ordinary things that also help make the world a better place.

There are millions of people everywhere who practice tikkun olam. They are not necessarily ending world hunger; they are not necessarily building new hospitals; they are living their lives each day with an attitude that informs their behaviour and their transactions with others whoever those others may be. The attitude is this.

“Whatever I do, whether it be my work my play or any social interaction, no matter how large or small, I will do with love, with respect, protecting peoples dignity and their right to have justice and to pursue their lives in safety. I shall do this, without trying to beat my fellow beings, without trying to self-aggrandise at their expense or to enviously denigrate my fellow beings to make myself feel better. I shall try to see beyond the social face and sense the humanity of the people I share this world with and act towards them as such accordingly.”

We (the counsellors) started a small project at the school called ‘y’ello pals’. Anybody, principals, teachers, children, admin staff, ground staff, laboratory staff, security personnel, parents who wanted to become a y’ello pal simply had to sign a pledge which they had to display for others to easily see.

Yello pal

It was simple and straightforward. In the school context people who signed the pledge and chose to wear a yellow ribbon took it upon themselves to behave in a way that ensured the dignity of all people, particularly those who are often marginalised by others in the complex power dynamics of social belonging, status hierarchies and group affiliations.

Suddenly kids who had been terrified to approach other kids lest they be berated, ridiculed or rejected found that they could safely risk going up to a yellow ribboner and start a conversation without fear.

Can you imagine how powerful that would be to a child (or anybody for that matter) who feels (fears) they don’t belong?

This tiny little gesture is not going to shift the axis of the planet but it is tikkun olam, repairing the world nonetheless.

* * *

I saw a man in town the other day. He had parked his expensive car and went to the parking marshal to pay for the use of the parking spot. He did not have the correct amount in change. The parking marshal suggested that the man get the correct change on his return and pay then… an act of trust.

It was a scorching day, the parking marshal spending hours in unshaded blazing sun. On his return the man paid the fee and gave the attendant a bottle of cool drink that he had bought. This simple act looked like a man giving another a bottle of cool-drink.

This is what I saw. One man saw another man (apparently different from himself; an other) doing a thankless job often taking abuse from drivers and acknowledged that he was not a parking marshal in his being but a human-being deserving of dignity and respect. He saw and acknowledged that this human being (a human being like himself) was standing in the blazing sun sweltering in the relentless heat and that he was probably thirsty.

In receiving the drink the parking marshal remembered that he was a human being not a parking marshal; felt that the other man was also a human being and not the driver of an expensive car who was treating the marshal with dignity.

Once the man saw a person and not a parking marshal he saw a man who had children, a wife, and hopes for his family to live a good life and to have opportunities like everybody else including the man in the expensive car.

The marshal saw someone acting with kindness and compassion and was reminded how important these things are in this dog eat dog world where often we compete with rather than show compassion for each other especially between those who have and those who don’t have.

Both men in their next interaction with new people remembered the feeling that accompanied their recent encounter together and perhaps again saw human beings standing in front of them.

They were both able to transform the mundane into the sacred and to remember what they were in their core being not just their shallow surface, I hope.