Stolen Wisdom, Shattered Trust

Stolen Wisdom, Shattered Trust

I was raised by two teachers. My parents taught me to respect and trust authority; to question with appreciation and understanding for those before whom I stood. They also taught me to be wary and discerning of people who might hurt or take advantage of me. Sadly, recent news reports have revealed chilling stories of clergy allegedly using their positions of power to sexually abuse members of their flock.

Even as my parents cautioned me about the danger that might lurk in any human being, they stressed that in order to progress through life, it’s essential to be receptive and trusting of the people who are positioned to help us grow; that in order to grow as a person and as a student, I needed to be open to the guidance of my teachers, coaches, clergy and mentors.

Our world will only work, and our lives will only be whole, if we continue to find ways to take care of one another and rebuild lost trust.

In fact, because I grew up in a home of four children, my parents taught that the only way any of us could successfully evolve would be through engaging with all types of mentors beyond just our family. Parents (hopefully) take care of their children at home, while doctors tend to our health, teachers to our minds, clergy to our spirits, therapists to our psyches and coaches to our physical skills.

I was raised by parents who really believed that it takes a village – that it’s actually the only way our society can function. That was our belief. That’s the system of wisdom we were taught. Trust was what they taught us to have, and to believe that it held family and community together.

Until, that is, that “trust” is stolen from us.

Yes, both wisdom and trust can be stolen – just as objects can be, but often with far more devastating effects. Indeed, it might be the worst kind of theft possible, especially when the thieves are those who (we were taught) are there to support and guide us on the journeys of our lives.

These stories of abuse are heartbreaking. Most of all for the victims, who vulnerably sought counsel and were taken advantage of in return. The abuse causes immense pain and breaks down the building blocks of trust; not only for victims, but for everyone who learns of the story. Moreover, this kind of abuse steals our wisdom; it robs us of the trust so many of us were taught to invest, from the earliest age, in other people.

As a clergy member, I find the crimes particularly devastating. So many of us work to gain trust, and do right by the people who seek our guidance. I stand with the overwhelming majority of good, trustworthy clergy who are steadfastly against abuse of any kind. When trust and wisdom are stolen, the only thing we can offer in return is to help heal the trauma of abuse on the one hand, and on the other hand, double down on our commitment to gain trust through our service.

The wisdom we learned from our parents in the first place? It’s right on. Corruption of their wisdom – regarding trust – emanates from souls who have lost their way. Our world will only work, and our lives will only be whole, if we continue to find ways to take care of one another and rebuild lost trust.

I believe in the wisdom of my parents. Let’s commit to rebuilding the parts which have been stolen and need to be restored.

 

 


Matt Gewirtz

Matthew D. Gewirtz is the Senior Rabbi at Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey. He is the author of The Gift of Grief: Finding Peace, Transformation and Renewed Life after Great Sorrow? (Random House). A strong advocate of social justice, Matt Gewirtz is a founding executive committee member of the Newark Coalition for Hope and Peace, an interfaith organization of Jews, Christians and Muslims that is committed to ending gang violence in Newark. Matt Gewirtz strives to find joy and meaning in his daily life and is committed to helping do the same for others. His greatest joy comes from his wife, Lauren and their three beautiful children.

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