Last night I got all turned around as I was attempting to locate a new babysitter’s house. I had printed off directions from Mapquest, but, as it happens sometimes, they weren’t entirely clear. To be fair, Mapquest has nice little clues like “such-and-such street comes before the street you want” and “if you passed this-or-that street, you’ve gone too far.” Those tips are very helpful. However, I still ended up driving at least five minutes in the wrong direction. And then I made another wrong turn after righting myself. Such is life. If only my parents had gotten a Garmin for me instead of for my husband.
Muttering to myself as I turned the car around for the second time, I realized that this experience was a good analogy for life. Why? Well, without good directions for life, things could get really interesting, and not necessarily in a desirable way.
Everyone follows some directions, be it a social code or a set of rules as dictated by religion.
Social codes, while always present in society, are generally unspoken and constantly changing. They are usually absorbed through the reactions of others (like a frown, a smile, etc.) and upheld through the natural human desire to fit in, or to please loved ones. Even those who choose to deviate from the mainstream culture tend to band together and follow their own subcultural code.
Most norms attempt to discourage behavior that neither directly harms anyone, nor threatens the society with chaos and disintegration. They are intended to make a statement about what is considered by some, many, or most members of a society to be right, good and proper. They embody certain principles of moral correctness separate and independent of what they do for the society’s physical survival. So, we are expected to do certain things because they are right and that’s the way they are done
Sounds okay, but these rules are rather subjective, which makes it tricky to pin down what exactly is right and wrong. So, with our directions analogy, they would be on the vague side. Can you imagine?
“Turn here, or maybe turn here. Then again, this other road could be the right one…it really depends on who you ask. A lot of choices are valid”
With directions like that we end up with things like Wikileaks, where part of the population is cheering the behavior while another part is livid. Interesting, but not desirable.
Religious rules, in my case, Torah rules, are less ambiguous. For anyone familiar with the Orthodox Jewish culture, it’s known that even within this small group there are a myriad of opinions about how to interpret the laws. But when it comes down to it, bacon is still out of the question, the Sabbath is on Saturday, and you should put on a sweater because it’s cold outside.
For someone like me, who loved following a syllabus in college (it tells you when to do what you need to do! Such guidance!), the idea of having a complete set of rules to guide my choices in life was a relief. I appreciated the consistency of having a set of directions that had survived millennia. Dating? There’s a protocol for that. Getting married? There are rules for that, too. Having a baby? Yep, we got directions for that as well. Taking a trip out-of-town? You guessed it, we have something for that, too.
I love the clarity which having an intact set of directions provides. As a bonus, if there are questions, a rabbi can (and should) be consulted. A rabbi is kind of like a life expert. It’s like having wisdom on speed dial. Dial-a-sage.
I know it’s not popular to state that there’s absolute right and wrong (that’s an example of one of today’s social codes); to do so implies that some choices that some people make are wrong This is understandably upsetting to people making those choices. However, different directions will lead to different destinations, and I’m happy with the directions that I’m following. They’re pretty good.