Wisdom and Doubt

When someone is angry at you, organize wisely what you wish to say. Begin speaking in a manner that is likely to have a calming effect. For example, begin by admitting your own mistakes. When you start off in an appeasing manner, the person will pay more attention to your words, and this will prevent him from causing you harm or loss.

We find an example when Abigail successfully calmed down King David, who was furious at her husband (see Shmuel 1, 25:25). She began by admitting that she herself had made an error. Only then did she present her arguments to King David. When you concede that you are wrong, others calm down.

When someone is angry at you, and you start out by either blaming him or denying it, you will usually increase the person’s anger. If you want someone’s anger to escalate, the best way to do this is to either say: “It’s your fault, not mine.”

It takes courage to admit your own mistakes. Even if you are only responsible in a small way, it is still best to start off by saying something like, “Yes, I could (or should) have done differently. I’m sorry for any pain or inconvenience I have caused you.”

This will put the other person in a calmer state, and he will then be much more likely to listen to what you have to say in your own defense.

-see Ralbag – Shaar hapiyus, no.1;
Rabbi Pliskin – Consulting the Wise, pp.58-9
quoted from Aish.com

Just a few days ago I quoted from another Aish.com missive that said:

Only when a person has peace of mind can he really feel love for humanity. Lack of peace of mind leads to animosity towards others. Peace of mind leads to love.

The reality of the situation is that if we wait until we’ve achieved perfect peace of mind before we start interacting with other people, we’ll never interact with other people. Since that’s impossible for most of us, we’ll need another strategy.

What if you’re wrong? Ever thought about that? I think about it all the time, but then again, that’s just me. Maybe I’m insecure or something.

Or something.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

Bertrand Russell
British philosopher, logician, and mathematician

I hope that means that I’m on the path to wisdom, but I’d hate to delude myself or elevate myself beyond my true position. But I think it was Socrates who said, “the beginning of wisdom is the discovery of one’s own ignorance,” so I suppose I’m in good company whenever I answer a question with the statement, “I don’t know.”

That’s not the same as giving an answer and then discovering that you’re wrong, but it’s related. In the world of the Internet, everybody seems to feel like they must have the “right” answer to all questions and debates all of the time. In that sense, I must be some sort of anomaly for having more questions than answers.

But back to the topic at hand. What if you’re wrong?

I’ve already been wrong in public including in the blogosphere, so it doesn’t bother me so much anymore, but I get the impression that it just terrifies others who blog, comment, or otherwise express their opinion online. Some people can’t admit it. Some people would feel like a failure to admit they made a mistake.

I suspect that it’s closer to the truth to say that people already feel like failures or carry around a great burden of hurt and pain when they find themselves in a position where they can’t back down, they won’t recant, and they refuse to admit that they could have made a mistake and overstated their position.

That’s horrible.

That means you are totally locked out of being able to enter into a conversation with someone you’ve hurt or offended and to, as Abigail did, calm down that person and then try to make amends. It also means that even if the other person were wrong as well in some way, you’ll never get to the point in the discussion where they’ll feel free to hear your gentle criticisms. That’s because you’ll still be too busy defending your own “rightness” and challenging the other person’s opinion.

More’s the pity.

You don’t have to possess peace of mind, and you don’t have to even feel compassionate love for humanity to begin to fix this. You do however, need to be able to make claim to just a small bit of wisdom and humility. The Proverbs we find in the Bible are replete with examples of those who disdained wisdom in favor of their own self-directed council.

Those people, no matter how certain of themselves they may seem, are very often completely insecure and uncertain and indeed, not asserting knowledge and facts, but desperately defending an increasingly disintegrating ego. The other day, I called such a person a nudnik. Today, I’m saying that like any hurt and injured human being, they should be pitied and if possible, they should be helped.

Was it something I said or something I did
Did my words not come out right
Though I tried not to hurt you
Though I tried
But I guess that’s why they say

Every rose has it’s thorn
Just like every night has it’s dawn
Just like every cowboy sings his sad, sad song
Every rose has it’s thorn

-lyrics by Bret Michaels
from the ballad Every Rose Has It’s Thorn (1988)
Recorded by Poison

But even if we are injured, hurting, humiliated, and emotionally bleeding, we can’t always wait for all that to stop before trying to right what is wrong. If we still possess a modicum of mercy, grace, and justice within us and we don’t want to live long enough to see ourselves become the villain, then we have to take who we are and do the best we can with ourselves. No one enters life a perfect person and no one leaves life perfect either. Sure, during whatever lifetime we are granted, we are given many opportunities to learn, to become wise, and to elevate ourselves spiritually, but in the end, we are who we are. We take all of that and do our best with it and with us.

If it is permissible, we must use it for good. If it can be elevated, we cannot leave it behind.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Leave Nothing Behind”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

If you can be a better person today than you were yesterday, then you must make every effort to be that better person. Better to admit that you can be wrong and risk looking foolish than to always demand that you’re right and prove you really are unwise.

Just ask yourself, “what does God want me to do in order to honor Him and to avoid disgracing myself?”

Through love, all pain will turn to medicine. –Rumi

Please don’t destroy yourself. Please don’t try to destroy others because you feel they hurt or maligned you. God is the author of love and life, not hate and destruction.

2 thoughts on “Wisdom and Doubt”

  1. Funny how this topic vaguely mirrors/addresses another blog post I read today.
    Let those with ears, hear…and may our love toward one another indeed turn the pain we’ve caused each other to medicine.
    BTW–totally resonate with that Bertrand Russell quote!

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