Archive for November 25th, 2006

Good is not Obedience

Saturday, November 25th, 2006

The terms “good” and “obedient” are often confused – especially among teens but often among adults as well. A good student is someone who obeys their teacher and does all their homework. A good worker is someone who does what they’re told and obeys the rules.

This is understandable if you think about how children are raised. Good, when you are very young, is nothing more than doing as you are told and not doing what is prohibited. It is only when you are older that moral judgment comes into play.

Moral judgment – that’s where you, as an individual, make a choice to be good or not based on your own understanding of what is right and wrong. If your teacher instructs you to cheat on a standardized test, doing so would be obedient, but it would not be right – it would not be good.

We are taught as Jews that “just following orders” is never a justification for doing evil. As Jews we know that our obligation is to be good – not to be obedient. When you see someone doing harm or when someone instructs you or leads you to doing something harmful you are obligated to counter it, to speak out and to act to prevent the harm.

Things get complicated, of course. For one thing, your parents, teachers, supervisors and advisors presumably have more experience and knowledge and are better able to make sound moral choices. Yet history shows us that parents, teachers, supervisors and advisors are, like anyone, capable of making mistakes or of acting selfishly. So it is imperative that one first consider carefully – make very certain that you really are in the right before taking action.

There are often consequences for choosing to be good rather than obedient. It is often much harder to choose good over obedience (this is why peer pressure is so powerful – it’s very common for people to follow – to “obey” their friends even when they are doing something foolish). Yet the consequences of choosing obedience are often worse for you and for others.

Everyone faces this challenge at some time. Just remember – the goal of BBYO is to develop good Jews, not obedient ones. Just remember – it’s not enough to disobey. Disregarding the views of teachers, advisors and supervisors is just as stupid as obeying them blindly. It’s up to you to first make your own decision of what is right – then, and only then, to act as your conscience dictates.