In My Own Words: Playing with our lives by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Hubris: that’s one of my coworker’s favorite words. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “exaggerated pride or self-confidence.” A person with hubris thinks he knows more than anyone else and, therefore, makes better decisions than anyone else, even those with more experience and knowledge than he has.

If you think I’m describing President Donald Trump, then you are right. A video showing his numerous “I-know-more- about-[fill in the blank]-than-anyone-else” statements made for a funny video a few months ago – that is, a few months before the world experienced the crisis caused by COVID-19. Before you complain we are not supposed to talk politics during this time, I’m not. I’m not talking about the election, or Democrats and Republicans. I’m talking about saving people’s lives.

I would love to hear our president use these words at a press conference: “I was wrong not to take this more seriously. I am now going to listen to the medical experts and let them guide my hand. I am going to stop worrying about money and think about people’s lives. I’m going to stop thinking this is a conspiracy to undermine my presidency, but rather one of the worst crises the world has ever faced. I am going to do everything in my power to help all the citizens of this country.”

If President Trump did this, I would stand up and cheer. I would be proud of him and admire his courage. Being able to admit that you were wrong is a real sign of leadership. Being willing to admit that you don’t know everything is the only way to learn and grow. Being willing to change at any age is a sign of maturity. I keep praying he will assume a real mantle of leadership, but with each COVID-19 death, my hope fades.

Whatever you may think of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s politics (and there are times I have not agreed with him), I admire his leadership in this crisis. He’s made tough, and sometimes controversial, decisions. But it’s clear he’s doing so because he’s trying to keep all New Yorkers alive. He’s admitted when he doesn’t know something, including the science of COVID-19, or the best way for us to return to normal life. He’s also stated that he’s worried about a second wave of illness. Letting us know that there is so much we don’t know – that we don’t have the medical science or experience for – makes me feel more secure than someone who acts as if he knows everything or that this problem is easily solved. 

As of this writing, I know one person who has died of the virus. I know several people who became sick, including a young man who is still not feeling well several weeks later. There is no way to predict how many deaths will occur. So, please, Mr. President, set your ego – your hubris – aside and help all the citizens in all our states – regardless of whether they voted for you, or whether their governors were “nice” to you. Become a president of whom we all can be proud.