The sins of a president7 December 2019
On the Day of Atonement, practicing Jews ask forgiveness for their sins. The president of the United States may not be Jewish, but looking over this list of sins from a Jewish prayer book1—nothing has been added, deleted, or shifted, I swear—for how many of these sins would he not ask forgiveness?
For the sins of our failures of truth
For pretending to emotions we do not feel;
for using the sins of others to excuse our own;
for denying our responsibility for our own misfortunes;
for refusing to admit our share in the troubles of others;
for condemning in our children the faults we tolerate in ourselves;
for condemning in our parents the faults we tolerate in ourselves;
for passing judgement without knowledge of the facts;
for remembering the price of things but forgetting their value;
for teaching our children everything but the meaning of life;
for loving our egos better than the truth.
For the sins of our failures of love
For using people as stepping stones to advancement;
for confusing love and lust;
for withholding love to control those we claim to love;
for hiding from others behind an armor of mistrust;
for treating with arrogance people weaker than ourselves;
for condescending towards those whom we regard as inferiors;
for shunting aside those whose age is an embarrassment to us;
for giving ourselves the fleeting pleasure of inflicting lasting hurts;
for cynicism which eats away our faith in the possibility of love.
For the sins of our failures of justice
For the sin of false and deceptive advertising;
for the sin of keeping the poor in the chains of poverty;
for the sin of withholding justice from the world;
for the sin of racial hatred and prejudice;
for the sin of denying its existence;
for the sin of using violence to maintain our powers;
for the sin of using violence to bring about change;
for the sin of separating ends from means;
for the sin of threatening the survival of life on this planet;
for the sin of filling the common air with poisons;
for the sin of making our waters unfit to drink and unsafe for fish;
for the sin of pouring noxious chemicals upon trees and soil;
for the sin of war;
for the sin of aggressive war;
for the sin of appeasing aggressors;
for the sin of building weapons of mass destruction;
for the sin of obeying criminal orders;
for the sin of lacking civic courage;
for the sin of silence and indifference;
for running to do evil but limping to do good.
Is it really possible for any human being, let alone a president of the United States, to exhibit so many of these sins?
(Disclosure: Please forgive me the sin of using the sins of another to excuse my own.)
© Henry Mintzberg 2019.
1Renew Our Days, prayer book for Reconstructionist Judaism (2001, pages 504-505), edited and translated by Rabbi Ronald Aigen.