Sunday, November 06, 2011

Lying for the Greater Good

Does love mean never having to say you’re sorry? Of course not. Apologizing to a spouse when they are wronged and forgiveness on the part of the wronged spouse are building blocks of a good relationships. So the title of an article in is quite right in saying ‘Love Means Saying You’re Sorry.

For those too young to remember there was a classic line in the 1970 movie ‘Love Story’ by Ali McGraw to her fiancé Ryan O’Neal after he had wronged her in some way and apologized. The line was ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’. This line has over the years been a source of ridicule to rabbinic leaders and others when they speak about Torah True relationships. One would have thought that by now - 0ver 40 years since it was first uttered - that phrase would have died out. But it hasn’t.

That idea is once again being expressed in the title of that Aish article. The point being made is that the famous phrase from that movie is precisely the wrong message – an anti Torah message.

One cannot expect any relationship to be flawless. And yet the message in that movie is that true love mean’s never doing or saying anything wrong to your spouse. That of course is only possible unless one is a literal angel. No matter how good we try to be, we will eventually do or say something to a spouse that will require an apology. So our message is that according to the Torah love means exactly the opposite - saying you’re sorry. In other words apologies are one of the prime building blocks of a solid relationship.

This criticism has never sat well with me. Although I agree with the sentiment about the need for apologies to sustain a relationship - it is really wrong for that movie to be vilified for this particular reason.

I’m sure that the author of that line, Erich Segal, agrees with the need for apologies when a spouse is wronged. All he was trying to say is that ideally it would be best never to have done or said the wrong thing in the first place. That too is surely a Jewish value. To vilify a movie for that is truly disingenuous.

There is plenty to criticize about the current state of immorality in the mass entertainment media like the movies today. But to manufacture criticism is not only unfair but counter-productive.

And yet it is a common tactic to pile on even if one uses deception in doing so. Not only will legitimate problems about a negative cultural influence be cited, things will be manufactured or skewed things about it such as was the case here - unjustly mischaracterizing a phrase just to make a point. I suppose the thinking goes that since the influence in question is so evil, it is legitimate to eradicate it from our lives in any way we can even if it is done deviously.

This is wrong. It is dishonest. It is unfair to the author. And it can easily backfire. Because once the deception is discovered, it casts doubt on the entire argument. So that even the legitimate criticism is now taken with a grain of salt. And that is counter-productive.

As for the Aish article there is nothing wrong with it. It is good advice. But I am disappointed in the title. One might think that this is a minor quibble. Perhaps it is. But it isn’t this one example that concerns me. There is the larger picture to consider. I can’t help thinking that if this tactic of embellishing the truth continues unchallenged it will produce results that are the opposite of those desired – not to mention the inherent injustice it does to the author. Lying or embellishing the truth in order to make a point is no way to preserve the values of Judaism.