First, Look Inside
Kol haposel b'mumo posel is one of Chazal's best known psychological insights. Most of the time, however, we are more likely to apply it to others than to ask how it can be a useful guide to improving our own middos.
Thus if someone criticizes us in some way, we may employ it defensively in the fashion of the old playground rhyme from my youth: I'm rubber; your glue/whatever you says bounces off of me,/and sticks to you."
But Chazal had something both more profound and of more positive application in mind. For instance, if we are contemplating sharing a piece of our mind with someone – needless to say, under the more high-sounding rubric of "giving mussar" – kol haposel b'mumo posel suggests that whatever the validity of that piece of mussar with respect to our friend and the utility of our sharing it, it almost certainly applies to us as well.
In short, we would all be well-advised to heed our own mussar. A personal example. Recently, I was contemplating telling someone relatively close to me that he is neither sufficiently solicitous of his wife's needs nor attuned to them. I was actually thinking about how I might share this insight as I was driving my wife to work.
When my wife got out of the car, she mentioned that she wanted to go visit some grandchildren that afternoon and that there was not enough gas to get there. Would I mind filling it up? she asked.
Well, actually I did mind. I wasn't so enthusiastic about the visit in first place given that the same grandchildren had been with us for the previous Shabbos. And I was already contemplating the loss of a couple hours from the work day at the orthodontist with a younger child -- yes, still. And if past experience is any guide, I assume that my Mishpacha was looming ahead that day, not to mention a scheduled session at the gym. And for good measure, I decided that my wife would have plenty of time from the end of work until her contemplated journey out of Jerusalem to fill up the car herself.
Not exactly the thought patterns of even a minor league tzaddik. Fortunately, however, I was able to uplift myself, if only a tiny bit, by thinking about the advice I had been contemplating sharing with someone else. That was enough to convince me that I should go fill up the tank.
Reward was not long in coming. Not in the form of my wife's gratitude: I hope she never contemplated that I would ignore her request, and in any event, she did not end up going to visit the grandchildren. But my credit card would not work at the self-serve line in the gas station. When the attendant appeared to remedy the situation, I asked him to check the oil. The oil was fine, but at least three different other liquids of various colors were in perilously short supply.
So either the attendant had quickly registered that the world's biggest sucker had fallen into his grasp or we were in danger of burning out the motor. Based on past experience, the two possibilities are about equally likely.
SO MUCH FOR a positive application of kol haposel. Now for an example of the failure to grasp the lesson.
Last week, at the beginning of Kabbalat Shabbat, a late arrival to shul signalled to the person sitting on the aisle two rows in front of me that he wanted to get past and take one of the empty seats in the row. (More or less, all the aisled seats were full, though the shul was far from crowded.) Rather than stand up and fold his seat back, the holder of the seat remained seated while the other fellow was forced to shimmy past him. I wondered why the seated party – a generally genial fellow – had remained sitting, as he had only made the rite of passage greatly more unpleasant for both of them. No one likes to be crawled over or to crawl over someone else. I will confess that my thoughts about this small interaction were fairly censorious with respect to the fellow who had remained seated.
Barely ten minutes later, Kabbalat Shabbos finished, I settled comfortably into my seat either to enjoy the rav's always uplifting drashah, or, as is too often the case, a bit of relaxation from the pressures of the week. No sooner had I leaned back in my seat than a young fellow appeared and signalled that he wanted to go past to a seat against the wall.
Did I leap up to let him past? No. I just sat there. I'm actually not sure what else I may have done to signal my displeasure, but an injured look appeared on his face and he exited the shul.
Now, my parents did not send me to law school not to be able to distinguish the two cases. Unlike the fellow in front of me, I was not sitting in the aisle seat, and there was a perfectly good seat to my right that would not have involved squeezing past me. Had he sat there I would likely have moved down a seat, and we would have both had ample space.
But as I contemplated in horror what had just happened, I could not help but conclude that distinction was not much more compelling than a certain disbarred former attorney's pyrotechnics about what the meaning of "is" is. (At least my embarrassment ensured that I stayed awake for the drashah, though part of it was spent searching for my "victim" to apologize.)
What I should have done when I first noticed that brief interaction a few rows in front of me and formed a harsh judgment of a fellow Jew was to have placed myself on guard against similar behaviour on my part. It would have saved me a lot of embarrassment.
Even the corrections need corrections
Let this be the week for unburdening.
A few weeks back I wrote a short piece about the "epic correction of the decade" ("Oops,"August 5). A couple of reasonably prominent social scientists were forced to issue a series of corrections after it turned out that they had completely inverted their own data in summarizing their findings. Originally, they had found that conservatives are more likely to have traits associated with "Psychoticism" (whatever that means) than liberals. It turned out that the opposite is the case.
Immediately after that short piece appeared, my friend Professor Moshe Koppel sent me an excellent long article from The New York Times Magazine on the case.
I'm not sure if Moshe noticed, but the New York Magazine piece by Jesse Singal destroyed my concluding debater's point about liberal media bias. I had suggested that the liberal media had not covered the corrections because they were favourable to conservatives. And here was a reliably liberal magazine giving the subject in-depth coverage.
Finding instances of liberal media bias and double standards is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I had managed to seize upon an inapposite example.
Not that Singal wrote anything to make conservativs look good – or librals bad, for that matter. Rather he doggedly broke down the story of the original authors to demonstrate how even respected researchers can make embarrassing errors and how reluctant they can be to correct those errors when pointed out to them by less highly-ranked researchers in the field.
As it turned out, however, there was nothing either particularly embarrassing or surprising about the corrected findings for liberals or conservatives. The congeries of personality traits being measured, Psychoticism ("P"), as coined by German psychologist Hans Eysenck, has absolutely nothing to do with being psychotic or not.
Rather "P" measures disdain for social conventions, good manners, rules in general, and also a penchant for risk-taking – imbibing potentially dangerous substances, a disinclination to save or purchase insurance. A higher "P" score, as used in the literature, reflects a lower deference to rules and a greater willingness to take risks.
The problem with the original studies is that the authors apparently did not know the meaning of the scale they were using – they thought a higher score was correlated to "authoritarianism" – and as a consequence inverted their scoring of their subjects' answers.
But once that fundamental error was corrected their results were consistent with prior researchers, who discovered – Are you ready for this? – political conservatives tend to be more conservative in temperament. Less likely to ignore rules, concerned with good manners, more worried about the future. And political liberals are the opposite.
Who would have guessed?
Chareidim live longer
Here's some potentially useful information if you are considering buying an annuity, a type of insurance policy that pays out large amounts annually to those who reach an advanced age. Chareidim, at least in Israel, tend to live longer than their socioeconomic status would predict.
The Taub Center's State of the Nation Report 2015 found that chareidim describe their general health as much better than do all other segments of the population. Perhaps that could be explained by subjective factors, or even by fewer trips to the doctor's office. (As anyone who has spent any time in the checkout line in a grocery in a chareidi neighbourhood on Erev Shabbos can attest, it certainly has nothing to do with heightened health consciousness in the community.)
But in addition to higher levels of self-reported health, the study also found that life expectancy for chareidi men in the cities with the highest concentrations of chareidim – Bnei Brak, Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh – are significantly longer (between 2.5 and 4.5 years) than would expected according to their socioeconomic status.
In general, higher socioeconomic status is associated with longer life, and the average chareidi family has NIS 7,500 of monthly income versus NIS 11,700 for non-chareidi Jews. When the number of children is thrown in the gap is even larger.
Why do the heavily chareidi cities have so much higher longevity than their socioeconomic profile would predict – around three years? The study's authors suggest the answer lies in higher social capital – a high number of social relationships, high levels of satisfaction with family relationships, and 50% less chance of feeling lonely.
Those surrounded by friends and family who continually reinforce a person's feeling that whether he lives or dies is a matter of great importance to them have a greater will to live and more pleasure in life (or at least a greater feeling of heath).
Two takeaways. First, make clear to your older loved ones how much they mean to you – you may literally being keeping them alive. Second, live your life in such a way as to truly be important in the lives of others – you may be keeping yourself alive.
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