Visions of Inner Pain and Beauty

When dealing with a person you find difficult, keep in mind that this person’s way of behaving and thinking might be causing him to suffer even more than he is causing you to suffer. See life from his point of view – and be compassionate.

“Understanding Difficult People”
-for more essays on this topic
see Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Self Knowledge,” p.203
quoted from Aish.com

Last week I wrote on this topic in my “meditation” Blessing the Nudnik. But since the term nudnik has negative connotations, and since I have dedicated all of my meditations this week to topics and themes that are positive and uplifting, I thought I’d take advantage of a few quotes from Aish.com to come at this concept from a different angle.

First of all, I’m willing to believe that the vast, vast majority of people I consider to be “difficult” don’t see themselves that way at all. In fact, in any disagreement between them and me, I don’t doubt for a second that they see themselves as “in the right” and view me as the difficult person.

And I probably am a difficult person to deal with, at least sometimes (see my wife for a full and unedited list of my faults…I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek).

I’m not a perfect person. No, not even close. I can be wrong. And I have been wrong.

So, as I said yesterday, an awareness that we can be difficult people, that we can have shortcomings, that we can feel hurt and disappointment, and that we can be unfair and unkind, should allow us to feel empathy for those people who are like us and sometimes act in a “difficult” manner.

But of course, that requires a great deal of painful personal honesty and the ability to publicly make use of that awareness, thus becoming vulnerable to others who may take advantage of our self-exposure.

But then again…

There is no person on earth so righteous, who does only good and does not sin. –Ecclesiastes 7:20

Reading the suggestions for ridding oneself of character defects, someone might say, “These are all very helpful for someone who has character defects, but I do not see anything about myself that is defective.”

In the above-cited verse, Solomon states what we should all know: no one is perfect. People who cannot easily find imperfections within themselves must have a perception so grossly distorted that they may not even be aware of major defects. By analogy, if a person cannot hear anything, it is not that the whole world has become absolutely silent, but that he or she has lost all sense of hearing and may thus not be able to hear even the loudest thunder.

In his monumental work, Duties of the Heart, Rabbeinu Bachaye quotes a wise man who told his disciples, “If you do not find defects within yourself, I am afraid you have the greatest defect of all: vanity.” In other words, people who see everything from an “I am great/right” perspective will of course believe that they do no wrong.

When people can see no faults in themselves, it is generally because they feel so inadequate that the awareness of any personal defects would be devastating. Ironically, vanity is a defense against low self-esteem. If we accept ourselves as fallible human beings and also have a sense of self-worth, we can become even better than we are.

Today I shall…

be aware that if I do not find things within myself to correct, it may be because I am threatened by such discoveries.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Av 25”
Aish.com

Paul’s commentary on Solomon goes like this:

What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” –Romans 3:9-12 (ESV)

Given the opinions of these two sage authorities, I think we can conclude that no matter how self-assured, or perhaps even self-righteous, we may feel, even the best of us (and I’m hardly that) has some sort of flaw, especially when in contrast to a perfectly Holy God.

A long time ago, I used to think that people who were (at least in public) perfectly self-confident were either really good people who had it all together or total egomaniacs who thought they were “all that and a bag of chips,” as the saying goes. Only later on did I begin to realize that many of these “self-confident” individuals were really very vulnerable and injured people desperately defending themselves against being hurt again. They say the best defense is a good offense, but a lot of these folks defend by being terribly offensive.

And remember what I said before that even the most difficult of these people almost universally sees themselves as “good” and sees their opponents (which can sometimes include pretty much the rest of the world) as “bad” or as “a threat.” As much as their reaction to the world can cause other people pain and hardship, imagine how difficult it must be for them to feel as if they are about to be hurt and tortured by everyone they encounter.

On some level, we’re all injured. We all have our vulnerabilities; those areas of our lives where we experience fear or shame or humiliation; those domains of our inner being we are terrified people will discover and drag into the light, exposing our deepest darkness and weakness.

However, human beings have different means of coping with vulnerabilities. I don’t believe that we are all injured to the same extent and so we each have different levels of pain and inner opposition to manage and overcome. On top of that, some folks have tremendous coping skills and can manage enormous obstacles and difficulties with seeming ease, while others may struggle mightily all of their lives to barely stay afloat above troubles that don’t seem that tough to the rest of us.

But who am I to judge?

This isn’t about judgment of the frailties of others, it’s about recognizing where we ourselves are lacking and letting that “weakness” function as a strength. Seeing another person who we think of as “difficult,” we should examine ourselves to see how we are like that person and what pain may result from our own “difficult” behavior. For some people who may have reconciled with their “inner demons” so well that they don’t actively perceive themselves as having defects, it might take an extra effort to overcome the barriers that separate them from what they may be afraid of seeing in themselves.

As it turns out, the way to best help another person who is hurt inside but defending that hurt by pushing against others, is not to “come on strong” but to approach with compassion and even a little vulnerability.

That isn’t easy.

When someone pushes us, we want to push back. If we think someone is aggressive and even hostile, the last thing we want to do is “expose our throat” to them. But mercy, grace, compassion, and even “turning the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) is exactly what the Master requires of us in dealing with injured and imperfect people. Your “olive branch” may not always be accepted and reconciliation may not always be possible, but you at least have to try…we all must make our best efforts, even knowing they won’t be successful all of the time.

We were created to overcome the difficulties in other people with the best and most decent qualities in ourselves (Romans 12:21). Overcome evil with good, not only in “difficult people” but first, within yourself.

“Do not be too quick to assume that your enemy is an enemy of God just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy precisely because he can find nothing in you that gives glory to God. Perhaps he fears you because he can find nothing in you of God’s love and God’s kindness and God’s patience and mercy and understanding of the weaknesses of men. Do not be too quick to condemn the man who no longer believes in God, for perhaps it is your own coldness and avarice, your mediocrity and materialism, your sensuality and selfishness that have killed his faith.”

-Thomas Merton

As Rabbi Twerski says, “Today I shall be aware that if I do not find things within myself to correct, it may be because I am threatened by such discoveries.”

It is only by learning to be at peace with the greatest pain within you, that you learn to be at peace with others and with God.

May the Prince of Peace come soon and in our days, and may his peace heal us all.

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5 thoughts on “Visions of Inner Pain and Beauty”

  1. Making a list of all the sins and faults I’ve been forgiven helps me to put things back in perspective. If I have been forgiven so much, it shouldn’t be such a big thing to show compassion and mercy to others. Anything I give pales in comparison to the compassion I’ve received.

  2. Thanks for your comments Rachelle and Hellen.

    Peace isn’t an easy place at which to arrive. I believe that in order to have peace with others, you first must discover it in yourself. Even with the realization that you’re forgiven of your sins, the consequences aren’t always easy to live with and inner peace can be elusive.

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