The ProsenPeople

Improving Moral Vocabulary

Thursday, July 28, 2011 | Permalink

Eric Greitens is the author of The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL. He has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning's Author Blog.

In Tuesday’s post, I talked about how stories give us strength in trying times. Stories also have the power to repair and transform the reader and the writer.

The Jewish word tzedakah is usually translated as charity, but the word actually has a root that is closer to “justice,” and in this sense, tzedakah is understood not as something that is extra, but as something that is required. The allied Jewish concept of Gemilut Chasadim refers to the spirit in which the highest form of tzedakah is given, a spirit of all-loving kindness. We are required not only to repair the world and make it just, but we do this work best when we act with the spirit of loving-kindness.

We often live today with an impoverished moral vocabulary that limits our thinking about charity to questions about what we might do with our spare money, and our thinking about compassion to questions of what we might do with our spare time. If we give the resources of our time, our wisdom, and our wealth in the right way and at the right time, this can save lives. But there is a deeper power still. If we give in the spirit of loving-kindness practiced from one person to another, then we have tapped into an overwhelming power that can change our own lives just as we contribute service to others.

As a writer, the process of writing has allowed me to share stories of Marines hunting al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq and nuns who fed the destitute in Mother Teresa’s homes for the dying in India. Being able to relive these moments has enabled me to see how I’ve developed over the years. I’ve also had many readers tell me that the book has impacted them. Many have told me that they’ve been inspired to serve. And that, for me, is the most rewarding thing a writer can hear.

Eric Greitens’s newest book, The Heart and the Fist, is now available.

The Strength of Judiasm. The Courage of Social Justice.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 | Permalink

Eric Greitens‘s most recent book, The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL, is now available. He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Visiting Scribe.

In the preface of The Heart and the Fist, I explain to the reader that I’ve been lucky enough to learn from amazing warriors and humanitarians alike. Through this book, I hope to share how their work and their stories inspire me.

How do stories relate to the narrative of social justice and Judaism? The human mind is narrative; we tend to think in stories, and there is a strength in story and tradition. In some of our most dire times, we look to stories because they give us strength.

I spent time in Rwanda working with unaccompanied children who had survived the genocides. I spoke to many children, women, and men that had endured the unimaginable. One young man, who had studied English in Kigali and hid with his sister and two young neighbor girls during the violence, told me that during the violence he thought of Elie Wiesel—the Holocaust survivor—and he asked me if I’d read Night.

The world is full of stories of courage, too infrequently told. I’ve read accounts of courageous people who took risks to care, and they often drew upon stories from their faith and their family. These stories were enough to assure them that, though they may have felt alone at the time as the only person providing secret shelter, they were in fact standing in a deeper, wider stream of conscientious people throughout history who have stood against injustice.

Check back on Thursday for more from Eric Greitens, author of The Heart and the Fist.