For young children, one of the favorite shared spaces to play has always been the sandbox. In the sandbox as boys and girls play together, all are equal in the process of digging holes and making piles. There is no judgment, no competition and no gender bias whatsoever. Additionally, the only rules to sandbox play are to stay within the boundaries of the box, play nicely and share the limited
tools available to all.
In sandbox play, the best drivers of human interaction are on display: cooperation, respect, kindness and acceptance. Even when something goes wrong (sand gets into someone’s eyes) empathy and courtesy usually find their way into the social mix.
In the past few months, as reports of sexual harassment cases have surfaced in every industry and hate speech continues to be the topic of headline news, I have come to long for the innocence and civility of the sandbox. As the year 2018 begins to unfold, we have a moral obligation to speak out. On Rosh HaShanah, which marked the New Year on the Jewish calendar, I addressed what I called, the sin of silence. With the beginning of this secular calendar year, it has become clear that society needs to hear our voices.
Silence is a sin when we keep our mouths shut as people suffer injustice before our eyes. Silence is a sin when we stand on the sidelines when we have knowledge of sexual harassment. Silence is a sin when we choose not to speak out to defend the victims of violence or domestic abuse. Silence is a sin when we fail to report exploitation. Silence is a sin when our lips are sealed in the presence of hatred, bigotry or the assault of another person with words or deeds.
Each of these transgressions regarding silence can be rectified, and it is up to each of us to find the courage to speak out and stand up for what is right. As it is in the sandbox, the rules regarding proper civil interaction are very simple: play nicely, be kind, share your resources and strive to be respectful to everyone. These rules do not change as we become adults. Therefore, it should not be difficult to recognize when someone has crossed the line, nor should it be difficult to know when to speak out.
When it comes to hate and bigotry, there is no nuance. When it comes to issues of sexual harassment and abuse, there is no nuance. Yet, for far too long those who witness these behaviors often sit on the sidelines in silence. As victims of harassment and hatred are finally finding their voices in the public domain, we need to be listening in order to respond appropriately. We need to be part of the dialogue and part of the broader solution. With regards to sexual harassment, a recent poll from ABC News and the Washington Post found that 54 percent of American women report having received unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances. With regards to hatred and bigotry, anti-Semitic attacks are up over 86% since January of 2017.
These statistics should concern and disturb all of us. They reflect a huge national problem which must be addressed by society at large. We need to remember that Civil Rights were not just a “black problem,” the Holocaust was not just a “Jewish problem” and sexual harassment and discrimination are not just a “woman’s problem.”
Each of these morally reprehensible issues compromises our civility and exposes the worst aspects of our humanity. They are concerns we must address with a sense of urgency, and none should remain silent. Please know my office is a safe place to discuss these matters. There are also many resources throughout the City of Houston that can help victims cope in healthy ways.
We are commanded by our faith to love our neighbors, be kind to strangers and stand up for the dispossessed. It is, therefore, incumbent on us to raise our voices in unity in the face of injustice and immorality. In the face of the collapse of general rules of respect in the workplace, in the home and in society at large, we may just need to find our way back to the simple rules of sandbox play