" 'Reb David'l of Lelov told Rabbi Yitzhak of Vorki, "Everyone in their innermost heart, even when they don't know it, actually wants to do good to other human beings. So everyone who works, as a shoemaker or tailor or baker or whatever who serves others, on the inside he doesn't do this work in order to make money, but in order to do good to his fellow human being — even though he does receive money for his trouble, but this is just secondary and unimportant, but the inner meaning of his work is that he wants to do good and show kindness to his fellow human being." '
— Gedulat Mordechai ve Gedulat ha Tzadikkim

"The new bottom line emphasizes the importance of social responsibility and the common good. The premise of the Left Hand of God is that we have a common interest in caring for everyone in our society that each of us flourishes when we all thrive emotionally, spiritually, economically, intellectually, culturally, and physically. One natura1 consequence of such mutuality is a deep and immediate responsibility to build a world based on justice, equality, fairness, and peace, a world that cares for the well-being of everyone on the planet.

"Yet it would be a mistake to characterize our social role in terms of what we 'must' do or 'should' do for others. 'Responsibility' too often conjures up an image of a stern teacher or relative or preacher shaking their heads at us, scolding us for not being 'responsible' enough. We are seeking a world governed by love and generosity, not by emotional or moral coercion, and certainly not by rules of political correctness or by bureaucratic attempts to reduce love to a series of bank checks for anonymous citizen-beneficiaries. It's time to reaffirm how very good it feels to live in a society in which people care for each other, how much that by itself raises the quality of life and the standard of living for everyone. Social responsibility is a joyous activity that deeply connects us to others.

"When caring is separated from this joyous opportunity to enhance human connectedness and becomes instead just an external act of giving money to someone else, it feels less satisfying to everyone involved.

"When the part of us that really wants to care about others is activated, people act with incredible generosity and are willing to take personal risks, pay higher taxes, and make fundamental changes in their lives. But when they feel that a governmental program is really just about satisfying selfish needs of special interests, they get cynical, resentful of government and its taxes, and angry at those who seem to benefit from these programs.

"Not understanding this was one of the great failures of the New Deal and the Great Society. Many of the New Deal and Great Society programs were motivated by a desire to be loving and caring toward others. But because the Left did not have a spiritual politics, they did not understand that delivering money was a necessary but not sufficient part of a program of caring for others. And they particularly didn't understand that their programs needed to be delivered in a loving way.

"So what they ended up delivering was objective caring. People received various kinds of economic assistance from the state. Meanwhile, conservatives seeking to curtail the effectiveness of social programs and cut government spending often sought to curtail this objective caring delivered to the needy. As liberals compromised to prove that they were being fiscally responsible, the programs that were actually funded were frequently insufficient to provide more than subsistence survival for urban families.

"What was most frequently missing was subjective caring, the experience of feeling cared for by others. Bureaucratic regulations and impersonal ways of delivering governmental social programs undermined the ability of people to experience themselves as deserving recipients of the generosity of their caring neighbors.

"In the interviews we conducted at the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, we raised this issue with government workers. They explained that they often wished they could be more caring in their treatment of the public, but that there was no place for this in the way their work was evaluated. No one ever gave them support for being nice to the public. On the contrary, they felt a constant pressure to do more and do it more quickly. They endured endless bureaucratic checks on their activity designed to prove to the Republicans that no one was stealing or otherwise ripping off the government. If only the Republicans exercised the same vigilance when it came to the programs that provided welfare for the rich and for corporations and government give-aways to the military-industrial complex.

"Instead of programs that would have created full employment and permanently ended poverty, the programs that actually were funded only sought to relieve the worst impact of the competitive marketplace, leaving in place a considerable army of the unemployed whose very existence guaranteed a strong hand for corporations when it came to bargaining with workers over working conditions and wages: a corporation could always threaten to hire the unemployed if its current workers were not more compliant. Ordinary citizens, originally willing to help the poor, found that the liberal programs did not actually serve to eliminate poverty but seemed only to be pouring working families' hard-earned cash into what many perceived to be a bottomless pit of benefits to an increasingly chronic class of poor people.

"No wonder, then, that the political Right could build a successful movement aimed at reducing government programs. On the one hand, they could count on an educational system and media that failed to teach people how their current material well-being depended in larger part on the intervention of government programs, including in many cases government-sponsored housing and education programs that had enabled their own parents or grandparents to get out of poverty and begin a rise into middle-class security. On the other hand, they could count on people having the experience of paying taxes for programs that claimed to be about caring for someone else without it being obvious to anyone that government wasn't actually solving anything by handing out money. To make matters worse, the beneficiaries rarely felt respected by the government workers who administered these programs. They felt condescended to, and this vitiated the gratitude that they might have felt for social programs, particularly when the programs themselves were often under funded. Yet absent an experience of gratitude from those benefiting from the programs, many who were paying taxes began to feel unappreciated and then resentful at having to give over this part of their income to no apparent benefit.

"A spiritual politics must create a psychospiritual context for the communal sharing of resources. That means we must bring compassion down to the level of the individual and create what I call the subjective experience of caring. Such an approach must reward government workers to the extent that they are successful in showing a caring attitude toward the public, and it must find ways to convey to the population as a whole the appreciation and gratitude of those who benefit from public support. It must reward corporate workers for contributing to the common good. It must find ways to generate in those who pay taxes a deep sense of satisfaction that they are thereby making a real contribution to the common good, enabling them to feel proud that, by paying taxes, they are affirming the deep part of themselves that really does want to care for others.

"Satisfaction about caring for others won't be hard to generate, because it already exists — it's just hidden. Economists talk a lot about human nature, emphasizing the "reality" of human selfishness and greed. What is missing from that supposedly commonsense analysis is any account of the joy that comes from being able to give to others. We all receive tangible pleasure in knowing that our lives and our work truly benefit others and are genuinely appreciated.

"In our society, status often comes from having and controlling the most things. Anthropologist Lewis Hyde, however, has described some societies that have a 'gift economy,' in which status comes to people in proportion to how much they are able to give away. Despite all the societal conditioning we've received insisting that people have a "natural desire" to hold on to things, societies have existed in which the greatest good was to be able to give away material possessions. And, of course, once everyone was giving, there was a constant rotation of gifts so that people were receiving as well as giving. Some spiritual traditions have linked into that consciousness, seeing our whole lives as a gift to God or to the spiritual well being of the universe. Our society has concealed a secret that the Left Hand of God reveals: a life of giving is a life of joy. It opens us to new levels of human connectedness. It helps us fulfill the deepest spiritual aspirations of our souls, namely, the need to be needed and to feel that you have contributed your energy to something of value.

"We have a long way to go before we would be able to base our social order on the gift economy. We could take powerful steps toward that goal by adopting the Covenant of Social Responsibility. To get there we need to break through the social disconnection that leaves so many people trapped in loneliness (even when they are with other people) or unsuccessfully seeking to find meaning in the shallowness of mass culture. Whether we are walking down the street, standing in an elevator in a store or office building, sitting in a bus or a subway, we are all too familiar with the experience of being surrounded by people with a glazed look on their face, each of us sending out to the other a dear signal, 'Don't you dare try to connect with me.' Even though most of us have an innate curiosity about who these others are, we get a strong signal that 'no one is really at home' behind the blank stares and emotionally empty faces. That same emotional and spiritual emptiness characterizes the people on our television screens, from the characters in TV sit-coms, to the amiable but fundamentally staged personalities of news anchors, to the politicians whom we rarely meet in person but who are carefully presented to us as our leaders. Our task is to break through that facade and build a society in which mutual recognition and subjective caring are supported rather than undermined by our jobs and our economy, our educational system, our health care system, and our relationship to the environment."