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Faith Column:
What's Harder than Admitting Mistakes?

by Dan Fink
Idaho Statesman, September 26, 2009

If we want to restore real salmon runs, we need to breach dams. The science is quite clear about this; those who argue otherwise offer the same sort of dubious politically-motivated "evidence" as the pseudo-scientists who deny the reality of global warming.

And yet the current debate revolves around spillover levels, predator controls and fish harvest - all of which are tangential distractions, capable of nothing more than sustaining the current pale vestige of once- great fisheries. Why is it so difficult for us to recognize the obvious truth here?

Some of the resistance is undoubtedly due to socio-economic factors. While most studies show that over the long run, breaching would create a net gain in jobs and income, it would cause a large disruption to the economy, shifting opportunities from one sector to another and creating challenges for many workers. This, understandably, generates great anxiety. Advocates of breaching cannot ignore these humanitarian concerns and have a strong obligation to include re-training and employment counseling in their planning.

Yet I believe that most of the resistance is due to a more significant psychological factor: The necessity for breaching dams points, painfully, to the fact that we have been dead wrong about something significant for the past 80 years. Changing course is hard because there is something in us that hates to make such a concession. After all, if much of our history is founded on a mistake, what does that say about our current course? And if we were misguided about dams, where else might we have gone astray?

Doubting our decisions in one area can lead us to doubt everything else that we have done - and few like to live amid such uncertainty.

Nothing is harder than changing course. Why? Because it makes us doubt all that came before. The Jerusalem poet, Yehuda Amichai, captures this struggle with great poignancy in a poem about the Israeli equivalent of dam-building: the draining of the Huleh Valley, a decades-old public works project that created farm land for the Zionist pioneers-and destroyed invaluable wildlife habitat. Amichai wrote:

"When I was young, I believed with all my heart the Huleh swamp had to be drained. Then all the bright-colored birds fled for their lives. Now half a century later, they are filling it with water again because it was all a mistake. Perhaps my entire life I've been living a mistake."

Sunday, the Jewish community will gather for Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of our year. It is a time of fasting, introspection, and atonement, a somber and weighty occasion - for it raises anew, each year, the possibility that we are living many mistakes.

And yet it is, in the end, a joyous day, for it also reminds us that, with courage and fortitude, it is never too late to change course. The miracle of human life is that we can breach dams, restore wetlands - and repair our own broken hearts and relationships. It is, paradoxically, precisely in our doubt and uncertainty that God - and the promise of renewal -are to be found. May we all be open to this unlikely and beautiful blessing.

Dan Fink is the rabbi for the Ahavath Beth Israel congregation.
Faith Column: What's Harder than Admitting Mistakes?
Idaho Statesman, September 26, 2009

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