Shaya Cohen -


The Perils of Asking the Wrong Questions

Think of all the kids who are perfectly normal until someone says, “If you are not 100% comfortable in your body, then you are transgender.” And, since no child is truly comfortable in a body that is still growing and changing and that – in any case – is never precisely the way they would like it to be, then that child is infected with a mind virus. The mind virus, as we see all around us, can destroy the individual’s ability to live a purposeful and productive life.

The problem is that what is in the mind does not need anything physical in order to be real for that mind. Think, for example, of the experiences that changed us not because we broke our leg or lost a tooth, but because those experiences changed how we think. We all remember books or movies that gave us nightmares and shaped us, for better or worse. There was no physical damage, yet I still remember the deep depression that left me in a funk for weeks after reading Flowers for Algernon as a young child. So if a trusted authority figure like a teacher suggests that, really, the important thing to do is to spend our lives in self-examination, then what defense mechanisms are really available? After all, even the suggestion of being transgendered, like reading Flowers for Algernon, makes an impact even though our conscious mind may insist it is not real.

People who insist that “you are not entitled to your own facts” are entirely defenseless against a teacher who implants the idea in our children that they are not who their parents think they are. Their “transgenderism” is, without a doubt, a fact. It may be a constructed and invented fact, but so are a great many of the ideas that provide purpose and meaning to most people most of the time (love/loyalty/faith etc.).

There is even a Torah basis to this: a priest is forbidden to come near a dead body. But in the event that the priest (and any surrounding people) is unaware that human remains are in a place, then the priest is not spiritually unfit. In other words, what the priest knows is what ultimately matters, not whether or not remains are present. This is not merely a Talmudic argument that sidesteps “reality.” Knowledge, not reality, is what makes the difference.

So the questions we ask can be dangerous. If we ask a person to obsess over alleged abuse (whether real or not), then we increase the chances that the abuse will cause lasting damage. Jacob’s daughter Dina is raped, and her father and brothers call her “tamei”, which roughly translates to “spiritually spoiled.”  That event makes her a victim forever more.  But Sarah and Rebekkah, her grandmother and great-grandmother, were taken by other men, and in those cases it made no such mark! Nobody in those stories thinks less of the women, and so they carried on their lives as if nothing had happened. The perception of what it means to be taken by a man who is not your husband changed the reality of what happened to the rest of those womens’ lives, just as surely as a child who is told he is transgendered stands an excellent chance of changing his life forever.

Imagine being able to gift selective amnesia on a victim of horrible trauma. That victim might have undergone rape or combat, or any manner of things that would cause any reasonable person ongoing PTSD. But if they were somehow able to erase the experience, then they would be as if they had never suffered. So in many ways, ignorance is a blessing. An event that might otherwise scar, will leave no mark if it was somehow forgotten.

A more realistic way to gift amnesia on someone who is asking the wrong question might be to change the question around. Instead of “Am I comfortable in my own body?” for example, we might challenge them to think of other people: “How can I help other people be more comfortable in theirs?” This opens up a world of possibilities for replacing endless narcissistic recursions with acts of kindness and thoughtfulness. And it would make the world a much better place.

Comments are welcome!

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