Holding Strong to Our ValuesFebruary 23, 2014 - 5:00 am
You, LORD, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked,
who freely strut about
when what is vile is honored by the human race. — Psalm 12:7–8
The Sages tell a story about a man who found traces of leprosy on the walls of his home. The walls are knocked down, presumably because of his sin. However, his neighbor – who hasn’t committed any sin but shares a common wall with the sinner – ends up with a knocked-down wall as well. From this the Sages derive the adage: “Distance yourself from an evil neighbor.”
Beyond the practical advice of keeping away from bad people, the Sages also are teaching us that we can’t help being affected by those around us. As human beings, we are inevitably influenced by our surroundings.
But what happens when we live in a world like the one that David described in Psalm 12: “when what is vile is honored by the human race”? How do we stay righteous in a world unashamed of sin? How can we uphold our values when we are surrounded by values so very different from our own?
It’s not easy to do what’s right when it isn’t popular and when what is popular isn’t what we believe to be right. Appropriately, the psalm begins: “Help, LORD . . .” (v.1). It ends with a prayer that God protect the innocent: “You, LORD, will keep the needy safe and will protect us forever from the wicked, who freely strut about when what is vile is honored by the human race.” Indeed, we must pray for God’s help to stand up against those vile things valued by others. It is not an easy task, and it’s one for which we need Divine assistance.
However, we can also benefit from the principle that we are affected by our surroundings. We can choose to be around people who reinforce our beliefs and values. We can read the Bible and other literature that provide strength and inspiration. We can become part of a community – even a virtual community – that shares our convictions and aspirations. There is strength in numbers, and it is a virtue we must not neglect.
Most importantly, we must be aware. The most dangerous part of being influenced by society is that it happens unnoticeably. It creeps in through the TV, billboards, and the people we meet in the street. It’s important to take stock once in a while and ask ourselves what our society values and then question if those are values that we share. Knowing where we differ from what “is honored by the human race” is half the battle. Preserving our values is the other half – one that is won with God’s help, community, and dedication.