Learned Helpfulness

Delta is the fourth letter in the Greek alphabet. The fourth letter in the Hebrew alphabet is the letter Dalet. Each one of the Hebrew letters has a meaning connected with its original pictogram. For Dalet the pictogram was a door (the Hebrew word for door is Delet). Dalet also refers to a poor or humble person. The humble person enters the door with humility; the poor person comes begging at the door.


In Indian the word Dalit refers to “untouchables,” people who are not even considered a part of the caste system—they are outcasts, pariahs of a demaning caste system. The term may have its origins in Sanskrit and mean crushed or broken but is colloquially used to expresses Dalit people’s “weakness, poverty and humiliation at the hands of the upper castes in Indian society.” Approximately 16% of the Indian population is considered Dalit which represents 200 million souls. As of this past week 2 souls of those 200 million are no longer in this physical world—departed after being raped and then murdered. To leave a message to the Dalit community their upper caste assailants hung these teenagers’ dead bodies from a mango tree. They were cousins, 14 and 15 year old girls who had gone out into a field to relieve themselves. There are no private toilets for the vast majority of the hundreds of millions of impoverished people in India. For girls and women the lack of available toilets places them at extreme risk.


How are we to respond? Should we simply feel disgust for a moment and a little tear in our hearts for those girls and their families and the countless (50,000 a year is a low estimate) girls and women who are raped in India and, as in this week’s repulsive act, raped and murdered?


I have no solutions though I did wonder how many Delta toilets one could buy and install for $2 billion dollars—the amount bid by Steve Ballmer to purchase the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team from the Sterlings of Donald Sterling infamy. Private toilets might be a good place to start, but that will not flush away the underlying societal disease of caste discrimination and misogyny. There are those in India and all over the world dedicating themselves to combat this illness of prejudice in India. We have to be counted in that fight as well—both for our sisters and brothers in India and here in our own country and community.


How do we tip the balance in our country and communities to show proper respect for women and treat all as equals? It starts at home—how we talk about others and show our attitudes toward others. It also starts with public discourse and a full recognition of the powerful impact of words on shaping attitudes. That is why I broke my silence a few weeks ago. I have not backed down in dialogue with others about the parallel I drew in my blog between abhorrent acts by fundamentalists in Islam and intolerant “controversial” statements made by Rabbis. I found the following quote from an Indian activist against (yet) another Indian politician’s excusing or condoning rape close to the mark: “A woman in India is raped every 20 minutes (the ones reported), whereas people like Babulal Gaur make stupid comments every 10 minutes (the ones reported).” I say close to the mark because his and other’s comments are beyond the pale of stupid—they are vile and damaging. A way to counter our learned helplessness in the face of stupidity, ignorance and hate is to speak out. Lend your support (and voice) to those voices who are speaking out. We could call this attitude: Learned Helpfulness.




P.S. We are proud to announce that over a dozen KE students have donated tickets to our annual event next Thursday for those who would like to attend and can’t afford it. Please call our office if finances are keeping you from attending. Your privacy is assured and we will open the door for you. We are also honoring two women who have helped us grow stronger these past six years, Board President Ilana Erez and Dr. Anne Wernimont, both are rotating off the Board after completing two terms as Directors.



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