Sunday, June 21, 2009

Your Typical Friday Night Dinner with Friends

The truth is, you don't get away with a faux pas anymore.

Not with so many people blogging. So if this applies to you, take your mussar* and think on it. I'm sure it's not for you, but it's certainly for me.

I'm reading Rav Dessler's Strive for Truth with a friend. If you haven't read Strive for Truth, it's a good one to read out loud on these long summer days when you're trying very hard not to spleen about other people or spread vicious gossip. Or even good gossip.

We're having Friday night dinner with some very close friends who also invited a few other guests. It's a small party. FD and I ask a colleague sitting within ear shot, one who we haven't seen in a long time, about his research. In our experience, people like talking about their research, even if they can be coy about it, act like they don't. And we're really interested.

There was occasion to celebrate the project, our hosts told us, it was either acceptance of an article, or actual publication, something that generally makes academics happy. So pushing the discussion didn't feel wrong. But he pushed us off, and then, reluctantly, shared a few crumbs.

But it morphed into a huge polemic about a very controversial topic, and it got ugly.

Probably a sign that when someone gives you vibes that he or she doesn't want to talk about work, that you should let it alone.

Anyway, he essentially called one of us a fool. Technically, he said:
The Rambam (a sage Jewish intellectual and a doctor) would have called you a fool.
And he said it loudly with much emotion. So it came off as, You're a Fool!!!

No matter how much self-esteem you've got, your ego is bruised when you're called a fool, fool or not. In this case, the one of us directly insulted kept a quiet, on-topic, civilized dialogue going, unbelievable, considering the circumstances; and the other, the spouse who suffered the humiliation by proxy, didn't do anything.

Didn't kick the guy.

Didn't say, "I think we've got to go, I think we forgot to leave the key for our border."

Didn't pick up and leave (which would have devastated the hosts).

Didn't assert back, "How do you know that The Rambam called people names?"

Didn't sympathize, "Wow, you must have had a tough week to take out what sounds like months of aggravation on my spouse. You probably should apologize."

Didn't say, "You'd best right this before Yom Kippur**."

Didn't say, "It's so nice that we're so close that you can talk to my spouse like this."

Forks dropped, by the way.

But of course, after dinner, as soon as we hit the sidewalk, we discussed it on the way home and thought of all the should'a saids and possibilities for what had just gone down. It was distasteful and weird, and let me tell you, has never happened, no that's not true, has happened once in our 34 year married life, this kind of direct hit.

That anniversary is Monday, in case you're wondering.

So the mussar of the day is,
You really can't take back what you say, even if you do apologize. Words have a life of their own.
But the psychological truth is that it's healthy to let things go, to assume that no harm or insult is intended, and if someone actually does apologize, to accept it with complete grace. Even if that person isn't sorry, even if you've suffered a narcissistic injury, best to let it go and assume there's some goofball reason for his behavior. And when hurtful words recycle in your psyche, you talk back at them and say,
Sheesh! The guy had a bad day! Let it go already! It's not about you.
Unless it is, which it never is, ALL about you. So it's good these kinds of things happen, just to keep us thinking.

Flying Mussarly

By the way, our excitable friend is still considered our friend, and he is perfectly brilliant and learned, and one day, I am sure, we'll all laugh about what happened. Right?

* mussar is calling someone out on their behavior, their faults, so that they can correct them and become better people

**Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, you have to apologize to people you hurt before G-d will forgive you. All pronunciations are essentially correct.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Cry, it's okay, bubbala. Tell me everything.