By Cayla Muschel, Arts and Culture editor
“Do not hold back the good from the one who needs it when you have the power in your hand to do it” (Proverbs 3:27)
I was recently in a situation where a friend expressed a genuine desire to help me at his workplace. He was hesitant, however, to do something that was not strictly part of his job. He feared there would be backlash from his superiors for going above and beyond his job description. I was a little shocked that it was seen as a “problem” for someone to work beyond what is required.
Generally, we don’t do things that are “not our job.” That makes sense; we wouldn’t want to overstep boundaries. And yet it seems that we have gone to the other extreme. Now, we live in a culture where one can suffer consequences for being needlessly kind and helpful to others. Apathy to others is so prevalent, so built into our culture, that in the workplace we go so far as to punish those who do go the extra mile. We see unnecessary helpfulness as a liability.
This is often evident when dealing with bureaucratic difficulties. At work, our positions are extremely specialized. Consequently, trying to accomplish a small task often leads to being shuttled back and forth between bored employees who say “this is my coworker’s job, not mine; I don’t have to deal with this.” (I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to cancel a subscription by phone, but if you have, you know what I’m talking about!)
One famous halachic precept states “Kol Yisra’el areivim zeh l’zeh”, commonly translated as “all of Israel is responsible for one another.” The children of Israel are, at our essence, a society. We may often encounter situations in which we bear no individual responsibility, but as a society, we always bear collective responsibility for each other. Alternatively, the precept may be translated as “all of Israel is responsible ‘to’ one another.” We are obligated to one another.
To clarify, I’m not advocating for constant altruism without healthy boundaries. The verse says, “Don’t hold back the good…when you have the power […] to do it.” Only you can decide when you have that power. For instance, if you have an exam at 9:00 AM, you probably don’t really have the power to help your friend cram at 2:00 AM.
As individuals, we don’t want to live in a society that is apathetic to our existence; a society that will not help us, not because it can’t, but because our need means nothing to them. I don’t want to be apathetic to your existence. Your need means something to me.
Life already feels far too much like walking a tightrope. Daily life requires us to bear so many responsibilities and complete so many tasks, with often harsh consequences if we fail. Can we serve as one another’s safety net?
So, please, wherever you can, take initiative and help another person. Answer that group chat plea, proofread that essay, open those gates. Do something you’re not strictly required to do: be someone’s safety net.
Why hold back the good?