Heartless or Brainless is Not the Point

When I was in university and a member of the local College Republicans, a friend of mine related to me a quote: “if you are 20 and conservative you are heartless, but if you are 40 and liberal you are brainless.” He was paraphrasing a quote attributed (perhaps apocryphally) to Winston Churchill, who supposedly said “to be a conservative at 20 is heartless, and to be a liberal at 60 is plain idiocy.”

Despite being a fairly right-of-center person for most of my life, I have always felt that sentiment to be over-simplistic and a little self-serving, given that it came from conservative sources. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin agrees.

“Are we growing in honesty, kindness, and compassion? If we are not more compassionate and empathetic at sixty than we were at twenty, we have lived a failed life.” 

 A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 1: You Shall Be Holy

There is no political characterization here, no suggestion that one side of the aisle is naturally more compassionate than the other, because Telushkin knows that there is blessed little correlation. There are heartless people on the left and brainless idiots on the right, as well as the other way around.

But whatever our political journey may be, our progress in life should not be based on how hardened we become to the plight of others, but how sensitized we become to it. The cultivation of our empathy, our ability to understand and share the feelings of others, should grow over time. If it does not, it should be a sign that there is something desperately wrong with us. To become removed from the hurts of the people around us is to become less adult, if not less human.

Good Shabbos!

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