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Are We Desensitized to Joy?

July 20, 2014 | by Emuna Braverman

Have you ever complained about receiving too many wedding and bar mitzvah invitations?

Everyone laments the violence today – on the big screen, the television and in computer games. It has desensitized us to the reality of violence and its destructiveness impacts our very essence.

We’re also upset by the sexual immorality depicted in these same formats. It desensitizes us to the real potential and ability for intimacy. We avoid vulnerability and mask our inner selves.

Additionally the streets of all major cities in America are filled with the homeless – begging and sleeping on the sidewalks outside our homes. We are desensitized to poverty and mental illness. Their constant unwashed presence and their non-stop requests for money alienate us from their humanity and callous our souls.

We are desensitized in so many ways. And recently I have discovered an unexpected and new aspect of this phenomenon.

We are desensitized to joy. We get so many invitations to so many different simchas that we no longer appreciate them. We have a hard time involving ourselves in someone else’s happiness and celebration, which eventually impacts our ability to appreciate the good even in our own lives.

Instead of rejoicing as the wedding invitations pile up, instead of marveling at the constant hope and renewal of the Jewish people despite the external threats, we complain. “I’m so busy.” “I’m too tired.” “Do I really have to go?”

A few years ago when one of my daughters got married, one of the invited guests wrote the following on the rsvp card: “I won’t be able to make this one but I’m sure that since you have so many children I’ll make one eventually.” As if my children were interchangeable and their individual experiences irrelevant.

This response may epitomize the desensitized attitude. What makes violence less troubling is the sheer (and unremitting) amount of it. Perhaps the same is true of joy. We’ve gotten used to it. The Almighty have blessed us with so much joy that we no longer appreciate the gift.

And we’ve lost track of individuality. Video games allow us to mow down rows of “people” with machine gun fire, robbing the fictional victims of any semblance of uniqueness and this has become our attitude and perspective.

The birth of this child is the same as the birth of their older sibling. I went to the first bris; wasn’t that enough? If you’ve been to one wedding, you’ve been to them all.

Yet if we take a step back we recognize that’s certainly not how we feel about our own children – and definitely not how the Almighty feels about His.

Each bris, bas mitzvah, graduation, wedding, grandchild is a unique and special gift – and an opportunity for celebration and appreciation.

When your next invitation comes in the mail, greet it with excitement.

Whatever the joyous occasion, the steps that brought this particular person to this particular moment were the the same as those for their brother or sister or your son or daughter. We understood this with the Down syndrome couple I wrote about a few weeks ago because the situation was so dramatic. But it’s true of every human being.

All of the types of desensitization are really the same. Other people aren’t quite real to us – and ultimately, with this attitude, we aren’t quite real to ourselves. We’ve lost sight of the gift of life, of our unique potential, of our Divine connection. If we understood the unique holiness of every human being, we would be avidly searching for it, not turning the other way. We wouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that individuals are interchangeable.

It may be too late for the violence or the promiscuity or the poverty (although I certainly hope not) but perhaps it’s not too late for the joy.

When your next invitation comes in the mail, greet it with excitement. Marvel at the opportunity. Be grateful to be a part of it. As the world darkens around us, these moments of joy are very precious indeed.

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