Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Importance of Recognition

Quite often a man finds himself in a crowd among strangers. He feels lonely. No one knows him, no one cares for him, no one is concerned with him. It is an existential experience. He begins to doubt his ontological worth. This leads to alienation from the crowd surrounding him. Suddenly someone taps him on the shoulder and says, "Aren't you Mr. So and So? I have heard so much about you." An alien turned into a fellow member of an existential community. What brought about the change? The recognition by someone, the word!

To recognize a person is not just to identify him physically. It is more than that: it is an act of identifying him existentially as a person who has a job to do that only he can do properly. To recognize a person means to affirm that he is irreplaceable. To hurt a person means to tell him that he is expendable, that there is no need for him.

The Halakhah equated the act of publicly embarrassing a person with murder. Why? Because humiliation is tantamount to destroying an existential community and driving the individual into solitude. It is not enough for the charitable person to extend help to the needy. He must do more than that; he must try to restore to the dependant person a sense of dignity and worth. That is why we have developed special sensitivy regarding orphans and widows, since these persons are extremely sensistive and lose their self-confidence at the slightest provocation. The Bible warned us against afflicting an orphan and widow.

~Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, "The Community," Tradition, Vol. 17, No. 2, p. 16.


Ezzie said...

Amen. I liked that.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. This excerpt points to the importance importance of showing others respect. I think, more than showing another person kindness or care, showing respect is the best thing one can do for another.