THE MINIMUM STANDARD

Last Monday, NPR’s “All Things Considered” broadcast an interesting feature about prejudice. Reporter Shankar Vedantam spoke of a professor discovering that people treat members of their own racial, religious, social or professional communities better than those outside them. This takes a Ph.D.? And what does it really mean?

According to Vedantam, a Yale professor suffered a serious hand injury. In the emergency room, she announced that she was a quilter—important to her—but received ordinary treatment. When she revealed she taught at Yale, in came a team of specialists. (The cost is another story). Vedantam cited an act of prejudice involving the initial treatment—one involving sins of omission rather than commission.

I’m not so sure. The professor’s routine care was probably outstanding. This was Yale! President Obama and the Giants’ catcher Buster Posey get more comprehensive, timely medical care than I do. Yet I get very good medical care and wish that everyone received at least the same. I don’t think I’m not being treated well because I’m not famous.

Along with prestige and wealth, familiarity and comfort create weighty factors regarding how people relate to each other. Human beings, like it or not, maintain an innate suspicion of “others,” even if differences are superficial. Such fear may be irrational on the conscious level, but it exists. Group loyalty tends to be deeply ingrained—taught certainly but also seemingly part of our DNA.

What to do? The Torah tells us that every human being is created in God’s image. Moreover, we should love our fellows as ourselves. Easier said than done. Some among us may exhibit universal affections, but I suspect genuine saints are few and far between.

The Mishnah states, “Kal Yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh.” All of Israel is responsible each for the other. Jews have a special responsibility to see to the wellbeing of other Jews. This attitude is hardly unique. African Americans, the Irish, 49ers fans, Latinos, Chinese, sorority sisters, Muslims, Native Americans and Elk Lodge members all understand.

Two Army experiences come to mind. At Officer Candidate School, the Jewish chaplain at Fort Benning had each Jewish senior candidate speak man-to-man with one Jewish junior candidate. That helpful chain linked men in class after class. In Columbus (Georgia) to purchase uniforms, I went to Sugarman’s and was delighted when the storeowner warmly greeted me as a landsman—a fellow Jew. (I can’t remember if I got a price break.)

Granted, our capacity to go the extra mile for everyone every day involves limitations, because our emotional energies aren’t boundless. We don’t feel the same attachment to everyone.

Still, legitimate affinities do not permit us to ignore the needs of others. A 9/11 or a Superstorm Sandy extends our sense of connection to everyone within sight or hearing. The nation grieves. The nation helps. But even on ordinary days, we must offer every person a minimum standard of decency, integrity, attentiveness and competence.

So here’s to the minimum standard. May we apply it to the max.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

Tags: , , , , ,

4 Comments


  1. Tracy
    Apr 26, 2013

    A prevalent thought in rabbinic teaching is that the most difficult mitzvah of all is to love a fellow Jew as oneself. This, I think, comes from a higher standard that we hold each other to. The first thing I think when I hear of an infamous act by a person with a Jewish sounding surname is “please don’t be a Jew.” I’ve talked to dozens of other Jews who feel the same. Ivan Boskey and Bernie Madoff come to mind. So while I agree that there is a minimum standard of decency with which we ought treat others as reflected in the Noahide laws, there is a raised bar with respect to fellow Hebrews as reflected in e Mosaic covenant.


  2. Carolyn Perlstein
    Apr 27, 2013

    Of all the people I know in the world you possess the most compassion and integrity.


  3. Barbie
    May 15, 2013

    This past weekend, my husband had a freak accident during which he ruptured both of his patella. I found myself quoting this news story to hospital personnel as I found myself battling the hospital every step of the way to get the quality care he needed. I appeared as the “typical” African American and the default position seemed to be a substandard of care, starting with an attempted EMTALA breach, to attempted patient dumping. It was not until, I made it known that I was a licensed attorney in the field of healthcare compliance that I began to be heard. I wonder how many other African Americans without my knowledge and resources started from the default position of substandard care and had to accept it because of lack of information and resources to fight for their rights!


    • David
      Nov 09, 2013

      Barbie: I’m sorry to hear that. I also apologize that I didn’t check my Comments button to see this as my usual notification re a commenter never came through.

Leave a Reply