Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How Good Do We Have to Be? Part 6- Final thoughts

  [I started this blog series well over a year ago on Harold Kushner's How Good Do We Have to Be? and life got in the way and I never got a chance to finish reviewing the book. I recently recommended this book to other people which caused me to dig up this long unfinished post.]

In the last couple chapters Kushner explains that life after Eden wasn't a punishment at all but a gift to be cherished. We are conscious about our death and having that knowledge makes our days that much more beautiful, or at least it should but we allow guilt and fear to overtake our lives. How good do we really have to be? There is no bar we have to meet that any higher power requires of us. What we can do is forgive, love and accept our friends and family for who and what they are, human. We are going to make mistakes and holding the ones we love to unreasonably high expectations will only feed the damage caused by guilt and fear. It is hard to be humble and vulnerable but if we open ourselves to others and understand our shared suffering then we don't have to suffer alone. And by opening ourselves to others we allow love to flow freely between us.

Kushner closes with what he deems is the most important word in the Bible found in Genesis 17:1. Tamim, which is usually translated as perfect or blameless, can translate to mean something like whole-hearted. Kushner states that God, as a God of forgiveness, doesn't want us to be perfect but to strive for integrity. As fallible humans unable to go back to Eden (existence before eating from the Tree of Knowledge) we should strive to be true to the core of who we are and the goodness found within all of us. In the final chapter Kushner shares one of my favorite stories, The Missing Piece, by Shel Silverstein. Like the circle who is content with searching for its missing piece after finding and leaving it behind, Kushner suggests we are more whole when we are incomplete.
"The man who has everything is in some ways a poor man. He will never know what it feels to yearn, to hope, to nourish his soul with the dream of something better...There is a wholeness about  the person who has come to terms with his limitations, who knows who he is and what he can and cannot do, the person who has been brave enough to let go of his unrealistic dreams and not feel like a failure for doing so."
There is a wholeness in coming to terms with our humanity, with our fallibility. When we give up our search for perfection, accept ourselves and others for who we are, and strive to be our best selves, then we find there's plenty of love and forgiveness to go around.


Part 1: A Story of Emergence
Part 2: Guilt and Shame
Part 3: The Cycle of Guilt
Part 4: The Wholeness We Seek
Part 5: Is There Enough Love for Everyone
Part 6: Final Thoughts

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