The fall of the regurgitist
I had a dream that I was attending a political convention with my wife. I wore one of my favorite wool jackets from my college days, and glasses (this was pre-Lasik), and I had hair on top of my head. As speaker after speaker traipsed to the podium, I grew more and more impatient. I felt my anger heat up, the bile in my throat rise. Finally, I couldn’t stand it. I stood in the center of the group and started lecturing them, as if they were children.
“This is all wrong!” I told them. “All you’re doing is spouting the party line. Have you even taken the other side into account? This is no way to help our country. If we elect politicians who only spew what the party wants, we’ll remain divided and stuck. No more regurgitists!” I shouted. “We should nominate candidates based not on what they believe but on their openness and willingness to listen, to at least give another perspective a chance.”
I stopped, exhausted after my tirade, as a chorus of applause rose. I’d done my bit. Politics would change. Party lines would no longer be so rigid. People would listen to one another once again.
When I woke, my first thought was, “Is there such a word as regurgitist?” (There isn’t.) Even so, I knew its meaning: Someone who spews doctrine without listening to anyone or anything else. Someone who regurgitates without mental process. The mindless throwing up of words to the detriment of all those nearby.
Even though the word doesn’t exist, perhaps it should. Perhaps politicians on every level should be evaluated, not on their adherence to narrow-minded, concretized points of view, but on their ability to take another individual into account. It didn’t mean anyone had to change their mind, but it did mean compromise and change had to be on the table. What if, when Israelis and Palestinians negotiated, they had to look for the merits in each other’s opinions first? What if, when Democrats and Republicans dealt with gun control legislation, or budgets, or any number of other divisive issues, they first had to search for areas of agreement? What would happen to our world? Think what might change.
And on the local level, as the so-called “Schwartz Plan” has fallen apart in typical inter-agency give and take, perhaps we also should look at ridding ourselves of regurgitists —agency representatives who do nothing more than look out for their own agency and spout dogma they’ve been told over and over again until they believe it without consideration or appreciation for anything else, including the community at large.
Somehow, after the urgency faded, as discussions took place and points of view unfolded, while the need to reduce campus debt remained on the table, virtually all of the other options originally proposed disappeared. Now the talk is all about leaving the agencies on campus as they are—without any real evaluation of their needs and requirements, without asking any of the basic questions that should come first: Is our agency housed in the proper facility? Do we serve our constituents in the best way possible? Do we serve the right constituents? Do we manage our money with efficacy and cutting-edge intelligence? Do we have a plan for the future? And if we don’t have an answer to any of these questions, whom do we ask for help? Who do we listen to outside our normal sphere of comfort and support? Because in doing that, new ideas are more likely to be generated.
There’s always another option, if no one can listen to anyone else. The Federation can take its nuclear option. Set a definite timetable, and if nothing substantive is done, walk out. Turn the keys to the campus over to the agencies, and leave the property behind. Rent a few offices and do your job. Support Israel. Encourage leaders. Build community, albeit off-campus.
As this year of The Good Word comes to a close, it is my fervent hope that the era of regurgitism, here, nationally, and abroad, may also come to an abrupt and well deserved demise.
And that’s the Good Word until the fall.
If you miss my columns you can purchase a copy of my book “The Good Word: A Decade of Jewish Thought and Chutzpah,” at Amazon.com. Send your thoughts, comments, and critiques to the Heritage or email firstname.lastname@example.org.