All Saints Day in Pittsburgh

Good political leaders express empathy, even for those who disagree with them

What has been on mind, though not in the media reports, has been how the shooting in my city this week was an attack on education, lifelong learning, and the development of emotional intelligence. The Tree of Life synagogue is adjacent to the educational center of Pittsburgh, a district that is home to universities, colleges, teaching hospitals, research facilities, art centers, and a number of innovative schools for children. The architecture of the region reflects a respect for classical wisdom. In these halls, dialogue is civil. People are valued for their ideas. A common theme to all of our recent mass murderers has been their hatred for academics. As they might have said in ancient Greece, "The barbarians are on the acropolis now."

The people were gathered for a child's naming ceremony at the Tree of Life. The Torah lessons for the season spoke of Abraham and Sarah's immigration into a new land, and on the responsibility thrust upon them by the children born to them in their old age. In this segment of our shared tradition, Christians, Moslems, and Jews are reminded of our collective responsibility to teach, listen, and learn. For the sake of the child, and our own salvation, we vow together to engage in lifelong learning, religious reflection, and the development of our emotional intelligence. God does not expect all of us to be smart. He does expect us to be compassionate. To feel another's pain requires a certain cultivation of the mind. Good parents teach their children to view things from another person's perspective. Good teachers show how each day's subject matter relates to our shared human experience and helps us to solve problems together. Good religious leaders encourage dialogue and the cultivation of emotional intelligence.

No, I do not believe that today's political divisions are caused by evil journalists twisting the words of our leaders. I think we are divided because we are not encouraged to think, investigate, and discover diverse opinions. From the time of Socrates until today, those who questioned authority have been targeted. From the time of Jesus until today, congregations have taken it upon themselves to care for the world. We send forth missionary healthcare workers and educators. We care for refugees. We welcome immigrants. We stand against those who would deny others the chance to worship in peace, raise their children in safety, and find healing for their wounds.

Further, pursuing wisdom leads us to be generous. We see our nation as having room enough to accept newcomers. We don't look for easy scapegoats to blame for our economic problems, as the Germans did before World War II. We have enough emotional intelligence to trust that even total strangers will contribute to the common good, provided they given time to learn our values and provided access to public libraries, our free press, and the other educational benefits that we enjoy, but don't use as often as we should.