'I wish some people would grow up.'
'Some people just don't think.'
'Some people are so insensitive.'
'Some people are so opinionated.'
We've all thought and said these things at some point. We've all felt amazed at the behavior and thinking of 'some people.' Here's the problem: all too often we happen to fall into the 'some people' category ourselves. Each of us at some point acts in ways that are immature, thoughtless, insensitive, opinionated, and every other flavor of frailty available to human beings.
Why is it when someone else runs a yellow light or pulls in front of us in the highway, we get self righteous and indignant but when we run the yellow or cut in front of another car, we don't consider it to be such a crime?
Why can't Democrats fathom how a person of integrity could possibly be a Republican? Why can't Republicans believe someone would actually be a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party?
Why is it that we can be so appalled by an organization's behavior, a neighbor's behavior, or even our spouse's behavior where we can't believe they could be so inappropriate and disrespectful? Being appalled suggests that we are not guilty of the same behavior at times ourselves. Au contraire. Feeling self-righteous implies our way of seeing the world is the all-encompassing truth, that there is nothing to learn from the view of others.
A little humbling, no? We are all guilty of the indecencies we accuse others of perpetrating, but in the moment that reality can be completely lost on us. What's at work in each of us that allows us to see life this way?
Let's take a look at what the Torah says. There is a profound passage in the Talmud that talks about how it is even possible for a person to become indignant and self-righteous, or commit any sin for that matter. The Talmud says it can only happen if a person is overcome by a 'ruach shuts,' literally, a spirit of mishugas. When we are caught in our egoic mishugas we look outside to find the problems, not inside.
We see things wrong with everything but ourselves ' we see life with absolutely no humility. Other people are hypocritical, other people are thoughtless, other people are insensitive, but our behavior gets conveniently rationalized. It's a perspective that comes from the spirit of mishugas and we all fall into it.
This does not mean we should lie down and do nothing when others are thoughtless or hurtful, or that we don't need to address someone else's behavior if it was inappropriate. It simply means that when we start getting appalled and self-righteous about their behavior, we are getting lost in our own mishugas, and we are incapable of handling the situation with wisdom and grace at that moment. This is where bad will, broken relationships and estrangement are born. This is where ugly controversies, partisanship and community divisiveness is born.
The Jewish sources say there is a very simple, albeit counterintuitive, path out of this very natural reactivity and drama we create in our own minds: we change our relationship to our own self-righteousness. We begin to stop trusting this feeling and start to see it as an indication that internal mishugas is afoot. The moment we begin to feel ourselves fill up with that feeling of being appalled, of being indignant, let it be a red light that we are beginning to dip into the contamination of our own egos. Instead of believing our self-righteousness and indignation without question, let it be a sign that our perception is getting cloudy, and that we are losing our perspective.
Imagine how life would be different if when we saw someone run a yellow or cut us off in traffic, we had the thought, 'Wow, I do that sometimes myself, I need to be more careful about that.'
Imagine how life would be different if we understood that when we saw someone getting opinionated about life, living as if their opinion and fact were indistinguishable, we saw it as something we all fall into. Imagine what life would be like if we waited until the mishugas passed and then went to discuss the issue at hand with the offending party, be it our spouse, our child, our co-worker, or a person on the street.
How would we be able to tell if we are being successful at seeing the mishugas for what it is? If we find ourselves seeing others' behavior with more humility, knowing that we are also capable of the same inadequacies, or if we find ourselves feeling a little doubtful or suspect about being so appalled, knowing that nothing of value can come from that feeling we have begun to be part of the solution.
The world outside would begin to reflect the change that we have begun to make from the inside. People would begin to look more lost in their own 'ruach shtus' and less premeditated when they made mistakes. Situations would begin to look less threatening and worthy of fighting or ending relationships over. The spirit of mishugas would get deflated, and when that happens, more goodness, wisdom, and helping of others enter in its place.