Words, consequences and responsibility
“The words of a president matter.... At their best, the words of a president can inspire. At their worst, they can incite.” Joe Biden, president-elect, Jan. 6, 2021
This month in my Beth Evergreen Mussar class, we are talking about the soul trait of responsibility. The Hebrew word for responsibility is “achrayut” and one of its roots is “achar,” after.
In his book Everyday Holiness, Alan Morinis writes, “When we establish the notion of responsibility in the realm of time – that is, finding the root of this soul-trait in the concept “after” – we are drawn toward recognizing that every single thought, word or deed has its “after” – its antecedent and its consequence, connecting up in a great chain of cause and effect that spreads over time.”
A couple of years ago, at the invitation of my friend Irene, I attended the Colorado Capital Conference, where 50 Colorado residents had the opportunity to meet with leaders from both parties, and visit Congress, the Supreme Court and national monuments. We sat in the very chambers that this week were invaded, violated and defiled.
What happened Wednesday in Washington D.C. has caused me to reflect on the Mussar concept of responsibility. It proved to me once again that every word has “its antecedent and consequence,” sometimes as serious as threatening our very way of life, our democracy.
Our outgoing president told his supporters “we’re going to have to fight much harder” and then encouraged them to march to Congress, which was scheduled to certify the electoral college votes. Meanwhile, his “First Family” gathered backstage, watching TV, joking, dancing and videotaping what appeared to be a “celebration.”
The short-term consequences of the inciteful words are obvious: Lives were lost, elected officials threatened, offices vandalized, divisions widened, and the constitutional process of Congress interrupted for hours. It is too early to tell what the long-term consequences will be. How will this appalling event affect our future as a nation?
Our elected officials must take responsibility for the consequences of their words and deeds. And we all need to take responsibility for protecting our democracy – by voting, using our words to promote truth and justice, and demanding accountability.
“Who is the wise person? The one who foresees the consequences.” Talmud, Tamid, 32a