Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Inner balancing act

It's funny sometimes.

I wonder how much I let what other people think of me guide my decisions. I would like to think that I've gotten to the point where I just don't care anymore, and while I will try not to violate halacha and I stay within the comfort zone of my hashkafic parameters, I pretty much do as I please without constantly worrying, "What is everyone else going to think?"

And then I just have these moments where I do something that I normally wouldn't, because I'm suddenly seized with fear that if someone would find out what I did, they would react in a way that would make me feel bad about what I had done, even if there's no problem with it per se.

Okay, all my pronouns are probably making you confused, so I'll try to concretize what I'm saying.

The other night, I spent the night at friends instead of in the dorm. I decided not to tell people where I was, because I assumed that they would react negatively and with suspicion.

So when people asked me where I was, I ... kind of lied. Okay, I didn't lie, per se, but I didn't tell them the entire truth. And the thing is, as I only told them half the story, I felt uncomfortable and uneasy with what I was saying - but I did it anyway.

What on earth motivated me to only tell a half-truth? Why was I so afraid of what they would say, what their reactions would be? Am I not secure enough with myself and my motivations that I can't handle people not necessarily agreeing with every move I make?

This set me off on thinking about how I react to mussar that people give me. When my friends tell me that they disapprove of what I'm doing, or when someone tells me that I'm being rude or ignoring someone, or that I interrupt, or the lots of other things that people see fit to tell me that I'm doing wrong (and hey, I'll admit it - I'm probably doing something wrong), what do I do?

Generally, when someone tells me that they don't agree with or like a certain behavior of mine, it makes me go waaaaay defensive and I spend lots of time justifying my behavior to them. Or I shut down and I don't listen to the other person, or I think of a million reasons why they're wrong and I'm right and how they also do way worse things so why should I bother to listen. Now, many people might say that this type of reaction is normal, but just because something is normal doesn't mean I shouldn't be working to change it.

As a certain friend would say, it's all about balance - being able to accept mussar and even act on it, while at the same time, being yourself and being comfortable with who you are. It's a tricky place to get to, though - it's so easy to go too far and disregard any mussar that you get, because you emphatically feel that you are you and so you should do what you feel most comfortable doing, because to not be yourself would be dishonest. But it's also easy to go the other way and be so disoriented by mussar that people give you that you constantly try to please others without being truly happy yourself.

I discussed this with a wise friend, and she asked me what I would want my friends to do in the event that they saw me doing something that they perceived to be damaging or injurious to myself - emotionally, physically, spiritually, or otherwise. Would I *want* them to say anything to me? Or would I rather them leave me alone and assume that I am an adult who has thought things through and has made her own decisions? In other words, do I *want* to receive mussar/guidance/perspective? Or do I just want my friends to leave me alone and go about making all my decisions using my own judgment?

I want to be open and willing to hear mussar. I really do. So why is it so hard for me to hear it? Maybe it's because I don't think they understand the full picture, and even when I try to explain, they still don't. That frustrates me - that even when I explain, no one really gets it. But then am I really just justifying my behavior without bothering to take a step back and evaluate myself and really take a good, deep look at my motivations?

I feel like I'm walking a very narrow inner tightrope sometimes. I'm afraid to take a step in any direction, because I'm afraid I'm going to fall off and everything will shatter. But I need to take steps, because if I stay in one place, I'm going to wobble.

I need to go forward.

P.S. Will you hold my hand?


Erachet said...

Wow, excellent post. See, now I'm trying not to say "me too!" because of everyone pointing out how much I do it, which is ALSO a sort of peer pressure into behaving a certain way and so therefore it's even MORE of a "me too" and...yeah, this could go in circles. :D I really do related to what you're saying, though.

P.S. Of course! That's what friends are for. :P

Diana said...

The correct response to unsolicited mussar is: "Bite me"

Ezzie said...

What's wrong with saying "Me Too!"? :)

As you know, I read this last night, and I have lots to say... but I think I'm still going to hold off for a bit. Doesn't anyone else have something to say?

All in all, an excellent post. Balance in life is so hard to attain... we just need to do our best. Even well-meaning friends make mistakes; seeing from another viewpoint is one of the hardest things in life.

Try reading this comment. Now try and imagine looking at yourself reading this comment... and trying to figure out how you're understanding it just by looking at your own face. Confusing, right? Exactly.

Madd Hatter said...

wow. excellent post. you said it so well. It's a horrible tightrope to walk and I'm also very confused about the right way to balance. I think many people are. Still, someone wise once told me that half the battle is recognizing the problem. See, you're already halfway there:) Good luck getting to the end:)

Scraps said...

I think we've all been in your position at some point in our lives, or still are. It's a natural reaction to get defensive when people offer their unsolicited criticism (or mussar, which probably amounts to and feels like the same thing in this case). And so in order to protect ourselves from such criticism, we tell half-truths or leave out information, because even though we know we didn't really do anything wrong, we're afraid of others' perceptions and reactions.

But sometimes...we have to open our ears and our minds. Because sometimes other people have a perspective we can't see from our own, self-centered point of view. Sometimes they really are telling us something for our own good, and not offering gratuitous criticism. The difficulty lies in knowing when to follow your own heart (in which case you also need to work up the courage to stand by your actions and decisions, however it may look to other people) and when to open yourself up to constructive criticism.

Can you start with just one or two friends? Have a chat with them, ask them to let you know privately when there are things you may want to correct about your behavior. That way, it won't be an onslaught, and you can entrust this important matter to friends whom you know will treat the situation with the utmost sensitivity, who will couch their mussar, if they have any, in the gentlest and most careful of terms.

I apologize for taking so long to respond to this post...but I really wanted time to think about it properly. I hope my answer was worth the wait!