Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Macho vs Soft

After the terrible tragedy last week at Virginia Tech I noticed two knee jerk reactions.

The Macho reaction. Those complaining about the meekness of our society. Complaining how the students didn’t fight back among the other things. Those vowing to avoid the next attack by introducing more discipline and a hardening of opinion in support of a further proliferation of firearms.

The Soft reaction. Those that felt compassion for other loners and others suffering from mental issues. Those vowing to avoid another attack by looking out for the warning signs early and by vowing to be more inclusive.

This let me to think about how these 2 reactions reflect in other areas of life and in society as a whole. There are Soft societies and Macho societies. There are Soft ways of reacting to many real life situations and Macho ways.

For example up until 100 years ago the world was generally a Macho world. You couldn’t find many compassionate Monarchs or national leaders. Disputes were settled with might and those different than you were not worthy of your compassion.
The horrors of World War 2 saw Western Europe go soft. Incredibly, countries that had been warring non stop for hundreds of years suddenly softened up to one another. The thought of war between England and France is as unfathomable as the thought of 50 years passing without a war was 200 years ago. But it only works because all the countries softened up at the same time creating a micro environment of peace.
Let’s hope it doesn’t take another collosal war to bring the rest of the world to soften up.

Another area where this difference is highlighted is in Chinuch.
I once read a Russian parenting handbook from about 150 years ago where it talks about the punishments to meted out for the smalest infractions. Not only were the punishments too difficult to read ,it also recommended that every child (and wife) be hit at least once a day for no reason whatsoever.
Here we see a clear softening up in the way parents and teachers relate to their kids.
The Belzer Rebbe in his yearly speech to his chassidim this past year talked about how times have changed and hitting/strict discipline is simply no longer effective. You can only reach children through love. He urged Rebbeim and parents to try to relate to kids on their own level and you’ll see that most of the time there really is no reason to get upset.
Another example of Soft trumping Macho...

But perhaps the most dramatic example in western society is mental health. Where up until 30-40 years ago there was no compassion at all for those with mental illness. Those with serious disabilites were locked away for life. There really was not much understanding of the borderline illnesses like depression, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder etc. Today these illnesses are treated and dealt with compassionately. It’s very easy to jump all over someone who is mentally ill from a macho perspective and demand he/she be put away etc... But if you soften up and try to understand what it’s like to be in his/her mind then a whole new world of compassion opens before you. My Rebbe z’tzl used to say there are no bad people, only sick people. That might be taking it to an extreme but if one really thinks that way then how can you not feel compassion?

The signs are there. One of the hallmarks of the Messianic era is this softening as Yeshaya Hanavi describes it so beautifully. Even the mighty lion will soften up.

Of course until that time we need to find a medium ground. If we soften up completely our enemies will trample us. However if our entire agenda is based on living another day as opposed to making every moment special for as many people as we can then we create a Macho society built on fear.



Blogger chana said...

but with this whole soft business, even compassion for the mentally disabled is being abused. people are being excused for the inexcusable on the plea of insanity. some things are just never ok, regardless of how well or unwell someone is.

great article.

man... i started writing a comment but it got so long i just posted it on my blog as a reaction. feel free to check it out.

April 24, 2007 11:23 PM  
Blogger Sara with NO H said...

He wasn't crazy...he was fed up and got selfish. Kids are cruel. He just snapped. I worte a long comment about this on someone elses blog but I dont have my favorites to re-post it here. Still a nice post.

April 25, 2007 1:15 AM  
Blogger David_on_the_Lake said...

Let me clarify...
I never said that I excuse what this guy did.
I was simply pointing out that one of the reactions I had noticed was an outpouring of this need to befriend loners and misfits..and try to avoid another one from going off the deep end..

April 25, 2007 6:49 AM  
Blogger Alex said...


Please consider writing news pieces or an op-ed for Jewrusalem: Israeli Uncensored News. We strive to present different views and opinions while rejecting political correctness. Ideally, we try to make the news "smart and funny." Thus, your input is very welcome.


April 25, 2007 7:24 AM  
Blogger the only way i know said...

Very well written!!!

April 25, 2007 7:32 AM  
Blogger socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Nice post, interesting views.

April 25, 2007 8:44 AM  
Blogger anonym00kie said...

i dont think its necessarily about finding the middle ground, i think it has to do with having the right goals. if the goal is to control and have a society by design, then using fear and being 'macho' is the way but if we want a society where poeple have depth and meaning and understanding then poeple need empathy, guidance, respect..not stricter restrictions and harsher punishments.
the problem i guess is that macho is SO much easier to implement..

April 25, 2007 11:49 AM  
Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

This shift IS interesting. And I think it's better because it shows people care about helping others instead not wanting to deal with it.

With parenting, I think people need to find a middle ground. some are too soft and some are too harsh. Children need both love and bounderies. some people don't discipline b/c they think it's just hitting and screaming. But that's punishment, not discipline. Discipline is guiding them on the right path. And it's done with love.

April 25, 2007 7:31 PM  
Blogger David_on_the_Lake said...

Thanks for your beautiful post..
Its not a question of excusing or not people actions..it's about pre-empting them..

whose blog?

Thanks for the invite.... Feel free to use my posts..

thank u


you hit the nail on the head..as usual..

It all boils down to..Are you willing to put in the effort to see the world how others see it..
Be it another person, nationality, child or mentally ill...

Dont get me wrong..I'm not advocating no discipline. Of course children need boundaries and discipline..and sometimes even hit..But they should always sense it's out of love.

April 25, 2007 10:27 PM  
Blogger The Dreamer said...

you know, tis a mitzvah to set up batei dinim. even for the bnei noach. why? because without law and order, there's anarchy.

yet lately, the law has not been so orderly. people gettin off because of difficult background?!? who cares? your choices are yours, not your parents'. creating softness within the law is not necessarily good.

and yet, we pray to hashem to be a "kel maleh rachamim" - even though he is our elokim of din.
tis a paradox that only g-d can balance.

i'm all for chesed, but chesed doesn't always mean soft. sometimes, chessed is when you go against your naturally soft-hearted nature to do what you know is correct.

April 26, 2007 3:05 AM  
Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

Yea, I know what you mean, and that's what I meant. Parents should be well balenced and not too lenient or harsh. But guide with love.

April 26, 2007 4:09 AM  
Blogger David_on_the_Lake said...

I'm not an anarchist...
Just observing this shift..and theorizing that its all a part of the messianic process...

April 26, 2007 11:48 AM  
Blogger The Dreamer said...

really? you're not an anarchist?

I thougt otherwise...

April 26, 2007 1:52 PM  
Blogger Lvnsm27 said...


April 26, 2007 6:02 PM  
Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

It's cool how the world is changing before our eyes

April 26, 2007 6:08 PM  
Blogger David_on_the_Lake said...

only online....

it truly is...

April 26, 2007 10:38 PM  
Blogger The Dreamer said...

that's what YOU think.


April 26, 2007 11:14 PM  
Blogger Bas~Melech said...

OK, I came to this a little late and didn't have time to catch up on the entire post and comments.

But based on the beginning of the post, which I read:
I will not deny that you raised valid points in your post, as I haven't read enough to evaluate.

However, your points do not seem to be relevant to Cho, the VA Tech killer.

If you have been following the story (one of my professors has... extensively... we don't stop hearing about it... I expect to see it snuck onto our final somewhere :P)
You will see that it is quite clear that Cho was in a state of psychotic break at the time of the killings. He had a history and many signs of psychosis which were not taken seriously enough -- before.

All I am saying is this: As much as he ranted in his video about the rejection of society (and it was indeed a rant and evidenced a touch of dementia, not a clear level-headed speech) no amount of love and acceptance would have saved him. Maybe as a child things could have gone differently (they are investigating whether child abuse may have played a role in his psychological disturbances) but in the past few years and certainly in the months and days before the massacre, he showed clear signs of psychosis and paranoia.

A few people actually noticed his symptoms, but when they reported it they were not taken seriously. Teachers and students testified that people had tried to reach out to him to no avail. What he needed more than love and acceptance was a good psychiatrist. He was actually referred to a psychiatric hospital at one point, but the judge released him.

More information is still being uncovered and followed, but no one seems to have any more doubts that he was mentally ill. Just as sympathy and kindness alone cannot cure cancer, it cannot cure psychosis.

The failure to treat the killer before it was too late, that blame cannot be fully placed on others. The biggest mistake by far, which warrants the most concrete action, was that in the two hours between incidents, the campus continued running as usual. When students are shot dead, you can't just run off after the presumed killer without sending out some kind of alert that a murderer was on the loose! People should not have been in those classrooms when he returned! Security should have been heightened around the campus so a person could not just chain shut the gates without anyone knowing until they try to escape!
That is the part that I find the most inexcusabe. We can talk about our attitudes towards psychopaths later; but campus security and emergency response systems and alarms must be effective immediately.

April 27, 2007 2:00 PM  
Blogger David_on_the_Lake said...

Bas Melech..
Very good comment...

Aside for the opening line I make no mention of Cho in the post.
The post was about the 2 knee jerk reactions I noticed..and then I was off and running analyzing the 2 approaches and how they relate to the direction f the world.
I have no information whatsoeve on Cho and would never jum to any conclusions without the pertinant info.

April 27, 2007 2:41 PM  

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