Chutzpah (pronounced: hoots-pah) is a delightful Yiddish word that means two different things. One meaning is negative: arrogant and audacious and cheeky; the other is positive: stepping outside the box with great courage and passion. Both interpretations, however, paint the picture of someone who has bounced outside of the normal, everyday accepted mode of acting, and holds up his hand and says: “Enough, already!”
I think there are two areas where all of us need a little more chutzpah: politics and religion.
Our political system in America can work, only if all of us voice our opinions. We don’t live in a dictatorship (even though it may seem like it sometimes.) When a law doesn’t make sense, we need the chutzpah to wave our hands, and our votes, and get it changed. For example, just glance at how much of our money our federal government spent last year: $3.8 trillion (www.nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-budget-101/spending).
There are hundreds of items you can look at, but the one that struck me was “tax breaks.” Unlike discretionary spending, which must be approved by lawmakers each year during the appropriations process, tax breaks do not require annual approval. Once written into the tax code, they remain on the books until our lawmakers modify them. We paid $1.2 trillion for those tax breaks last year, more than all our discretionary spending. When are we going to have the chutzpah to call our congressmen and women and say: “Enough, already! Fix the damn tax code!”
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Religion is the other area calling out for our voices. The majority of us belong to one of three religious groups: Christianity, Judaism or Islam. Each of these three are called “religions of the Book”: the Holy Bible, the Holy Tanakh and the Holy Quran. Each religion is divided into two camps: the conservative and the liberal, and each of these camps is split into many divergent beliefs about the “one God.” Christianity, for example, has hundreds of denominations, each proclaiming the “truth.”
Does this make sense? Not really. Especially when one of these raises a spear or a gun or a bomb (and all three have done this in years past) and condemns the others to exclusion or even to death, claiming that their God has commanded this insanity.
Lately, many people have found the chutzpah to question certain aspects of “revelation” and to ask if this “one God” has perhaps been misunderstood. But not enough questions have surfaced because the religious leaders — in all faiths — feel threatened and pompously declare these questions to be heresy and inspired by Satan.
Recently, I mentioned the scientific fact that the universe is billions of years old, and I was told immediately that I was wrong. “The earth was created by God exactly 6,000 years ago; the Bible says so.” And I responded: “But the authors of Genesis knew nothing about the Milky Way, the galaxy that contains our sun and over 100 billion stars. And how about the other 200 billion galaxies — just like ours — that can be seen through the Hubble telescope? Do you think the Hebrew authors even had a clue about this?” And the answer was: “I hadn’t thought of that.”
It seems to me that as long as each one of us can respectfully voice our opinions, and realize that confrontation and conversation is okay, we can communicate. For example, not every Muslim, Jew or Christian denies the validity of proven science; most of them know that this science was hidden from the writers of their book. Likewise, not every Democrat thinks our $19 trillion debt is okay, and not every Republican believes poor people should have to help themselves.
And we all know that Middle Georgia has been laughingly derided as the Buckle on the Bible Belt, but all it takes is a little bit of chutzpah for that buckle to open up, and healthy breathing to take place.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His blog is www.progressiveheretic.com.