Breaking bad habits


There are many ways to experience these times that make up our lives today. There is the approach of the monk figuratively sitting on the mountaintop meditating (tempting at times), or shielding ourselves from bad influences, especially necessary to a large extent for our children’s sake, or trying to understand without personally experiencing the mindsets and approaches we find distasteful and ungodly.


When it comes to movie and TV choices, I’m pretty predictable. I enjoy non-violent dramas or comedies, preferably period pieces, and bio-flicks, all of the above, if possible, with redemptive themes. So a few years back when a number of my family members and friends were recommending “Breaking Bad” on Netflix, I gave it a try. I hated it. I could not get into the show at all which in a simple sentence is about a chemistry teacher who makes meth.


First, to clarify, I am not recommending that you watch this show. As a matter of fact, please do not watch it if you would rather not be exposed to horrible violence, immorality, and anti-societal values. If you want a recommendation, I highly recommend “The Chosen.”


So why am I mentioning it to you in this week’s Shabbat encouragement?


During these divisive times, I have to work harder than I have had to in the past to understand the view of “the other”. Areas of discord and difficulty pervade so many typical interactions that it’s almost impossible to go through a day and not be affected. Even if we surround ourselves with like-minded people, we hear snippets of “the other” in stores, at work, in school, on news broadcasts, on social media. This can be unsettling if we are trying to not get dragged into negativity or if we are trying to protect our children from certain influences. It can be unsettling as we try to walk in the ways of Yeshua to be exposed to such destabilizing influences, and yet they exist.


For myself, with the luxury of grown children so it’s just Sid and me, I actually go out of my way to hear and try to understand the other side. In addition to my own news sources, I read and listen to those of “the other” as well. I find that when I do so, my inner core of what I believe to be right is not shaken, or frankly, changed. I believe at this point we are dealing with entrenched opinions on both/all sides of our most divisive issues. What I do gain, however, is a deeper understanding of the underpinnings of the beliefs of “the other” which helps me to feel less emotional in my processing, more able to understand others’ emotional reactions, and better equipped to dialogue meaningfully even if for no other reason than to share thoughts.


So it is with “Breaking Bad”. I’ve recently been giving it another chance.  The complexity and depth of the characters is as if one is reading a book rather than watching a TV series, so I will not even begin to share all that could be said. Yet a vignette this morning gave me insight into the value of my watching a show so counterintuitive to my liking.


There are two brothers we meet who are basically cold-blooded killing machines whose purpose in the series is to enforce the values of the drug cartel. In the story they are stalking the protagonist to avenge the death of their cousin. As a viewer I have abhorred these two heartless assassins, until last night’s show which portrayed their childhood, how they were actually trained as young children to approach life in the way they now act as adults.


This morning as I was telling my sister where Sid and I were in watching the series, I started out, “ Oh, and we saw the backstory to those two creeps’,” (I stopped myself and then said,) “I mean those two young men who kill people.” My heart stopped me from feeling toward them what they had seemed to be, and are in reality, cold-blooded killers.


Nothing had changed on the facts. They are trained murderers. I still reacted in the same way, my values not changed. And yet, my natural vocabulary going from “creeps” to “young men” was so telling. For it helped me understand that by walking in their shoes as children, although I cannot excuse their acts, I lost my judgment of them.


For me, watching “Breaking Bad” provides an extreme challenge of the ability to walk without judgment in the shoes of our brothers and sisters even to the extent of those whose actions we may abhor. It has been an instructive tool to deeper insight of the value of working to understand “the other”.


I’m not recommending that you watch “Breaking Bad”. I am, however, recommending that you open your minds to understanding rather than judging the viewpoints of those with opinions differing from yours. Whether that means reading or watching the news sources that they read or merely working to be less judgmental, these times make this challenge perhaps one of the most important.


Shabbat shalom.


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