Lughnasa Waning Summer Moon
Slept in till nine yesterday. I was at Beth Evergreen from 3:30 to 10 pm. And, I was anxious/excited for most of it. Tuckered out back home, in bed finally around 11 pm. That’s really late for both Kate and me. Got up at 5:30 to feed the dogs since that’s what they expect, then went right back to bed. Unusual, but effective. Got up rested, though still feeling threads of exhaustion.
We had the mussar vaad practice group after religious school. That’s why the evening went so late. My practice for this month, for the middot (character virtue) of curiosity, is to greet judgement with curiosity. That is, each time I feel a judgement about another come up, I’ll add to that feeling a willingness to become curious about what motivated the behavior I’m judging, what might be the broader context? Am I being reactive or am I seeing something that does concern me? Or, both? Does my judgement say more about me than what I’m judging?
I tried this with a member of the mussar class. When I concluded that they were probably acting with little self-awareness from values instilled as a young child, I was still judgmental, wondering how a person could grow old and not gain insight into themselves. Apparently, in this case, quite easily. So that is who they are now. I pushed my circle of curiosity out a bit to ask the question, does our society need people with these attitudes, do we benefit in some way from them?
Important side note here. It’s not the values this person expresses that bother me, though I do disagree with most of them, but the apparent unwillingness to entertain error. No real dialogue can happen then.
When I consider society’s need, I find a different perspective. Since I disagree with most of the values expressed by this person, they make me give pause to my own unexamined ideas. They challenge me to remember the cliched, but valuable: Don’t believe everything you think. What’s the societal advantage here? No democracy can survive capture by one political perspective. That’s the problem with demagogues, autocrats. They represent a calcified political ideology that brooks no challenge, no matter what the ideology. So, the frisson between competing ideas keeps us from accepting the Putin, Xi Jiping, Kim Jong Un style of strongman leadership.
Like Charlie H. in the Woollies, this person threatened to leave the group. It struck me that both used their own intransigence and subsequent reaction to it as a means of manipulating the group into reinforcing their willingness to include them. I feel extorted in those situations, like I have to simply roll over and say, oh, please stay. In Charlie’s case I would not have done it, had I been in the Twin Cities and able to face the daily consequences of defying him. In the mussar group instance I only held my hand up half way when asked if we wanted this person to remain in the group. I felt similarly manipulated, but did not feel my cohesion with the group quite strong enough to withstand outright defiance.
In both instances my reaction is not, I’ll say this again, to the values underlying the reactions of these two people, but to the manipulative and my way or I hit the highway ultimatums.
We should question ourselves if another person’s values disturb us enough to want them gone from our presence, or our society. That’s not to say that there aren’t some values so abhorrent as to justify that. Criminal law is filled with examples. But in the political realm, so long as reasoned discourse can occur, then we owe it to ourselves to consider honestly those with whom we disagree. They might just know something we don’t.