I’m starting to see a pattern here.
Recently I realized that my “constructive criticism” is missing on the constructive side. Please bear with the kind of personal nature of this post – you’ll get your profound Torah wisdom at the end, I promise (hope). I guess you can skip if you want. 🙂
Well, motzi Shabbos (Saturday night) my wife told me I was being negative. Ok, she told me that I’m very often negative, and pointed out some incidences during the day where I was focusing on what may have been missing, as opposed to all the things that went perfect and great.
To defend myself, I listed a number of complements that I had given (Mostly positive interactions with the kids, not to her :(, except I did complement the delicious cholent. 🙂 ) In any case it could be I have a negative streak. However this is how I explained the math to my wife:
“You only mentioned one particular negative comment over Shabbos, and I made several positive comments, and loads of neutral. So that at least cancels out – leaving me at least neutral.”
When you win, you lose. In certain circles they say “De-Nile ain’t just another river in Egypt.” So I wasn’t all the way there yet. But I’m working on it.
I’m taking a spiritual coaching course. From the beginning I’ve been pointing out things that could improve with it. (It’s their first run.) The order and manner of presentation, the technology used, the description of the concepts, it’s too girly – too much information, too little information etc… I figured my Torah knowledge and technical expertise (I created this website and built, co-authored www.yiddishacademy.com by my lonesome.) could be of use there, you see.
I recently filled out their survey, making sure to complain about the survey itself. When I came to the section of particular things I gained from the course up to date, I listed with much satisfaction the awareness of whether or not an action is coming from a purely selfish motivation versus an altruistic one indicates whether or not you’re in line with your nefesh ha’bahamis (animal life force, from the Dark Side) or your nefesh Elokis (Divine soul). I really thought that was something extremely worthwhile that I had gained from the course. Then I hit send. (?!)
Don’t worry, I got the irony right afterwards… Maybe my feedback wasn’t so welcome because it wasn’t coming from exactly the right place. It wasn’t the most pleasant realization. And why did I have to do it again and again?
And why exactly do I go around judging people and what they do all the time? Why am I always criticizing people? Even people I barely know? Even people I don’t know at all, not where they’re coming from or what they’re about or anything? What do I accomplish with this? I’ve even criticized people I don’t know to their faces, not just in my head.
If one is not sure that the other will appreciate the input, and probably not act on it, criticism cannot be for the other person’s benefit can it? That would make it from the nefesh ha’behamis, an act out of line with our divine nature.
What is the payoff for our animal? It could be an inflation of ego, or a defense – an externalization and nullification of qualities that are too close to home. In my case with the coaching I have a strong desire to be seen as an expert in areas I’ve worked hard to learn about – I don’t feel seen and acknowledged. Hence the snowballing criticism after it wasn’t well received in the first place for the first reasons.
But where does the tendency for general negativity come from? Perhaps if one perceives oneself as negative and deficient, a convenient defensive is putting that on everyone and everything else. But the irony there is that it just self perpetuates… judgment, negativity, more judgment, and more negativity. The only answer is love and acceptance – to the self and the other, in any order. We’re all connected anyway.
The Light from the Darkness – Yisron Ha’Ohr Min HaChoshech
But how can we (We meaning me. But not the royal we. 🙂 ) get there? Besides expensive therapy and men’s groups with war paint and tribal chantings? The truth is, I used a technique called The Work: www.thework.com
after I spoke with my wife (actually it was a different conversation, but that one was even more personal), and that’s how I was able to get to a place of serenity this weekend. But I also studied Michtav M’Eliyahu
over Shabbos, and I think an idea I learned with my chavrusa
could really be of benefit, to help maintain awareness.
Maybe it would help to see that even our negativity is ultimately good. It’s just being channeled the wrong way. Why? The Michtav M’Eliyahu explains (Vol. III, towards the end of Yediah V’Hasagah, Ohr K’salmah) that God is so beyond, that we can only perceive Him by what He isn’t. We can only come to know Him by seeing our own faults which He always helps us to perfect. By seeing our own imperfections and acknowledging them, we are able to know Him through what He isn’t!
It is profound and encouraging. Our faults were created by God so that we could choose to perfect them and own ourselves and our eternal joy in experiencing Hashem, and on top of that it is only through our faults and imperfections that we see God – just as we see objects in contrast to the light that did not penetrate them, we see God through that which we know is not Godly within us.
When we see that God don’t make no junk, we can accept and embrace our failings, acknowledge them and own them before we ask Hashem to help us improve… Then we can expand our awareness and realize that everyone else is deserving of that same love and acceptance.
May the Messiah come speedily in our days. Amen.
To lighten things up, here are some of my artsy, hopefully halichikly ok if not weird kabbalistic drawing related to this idea: