Today marks the start of the Three Weeks of Mourning in Jewish culture, commemorating the three weeks of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem in 70AD, and Jewish autonomy for almost two thousand years.
I can (and will happily) wax about the complex political factors that led to this, but I also go back to the fables of my childhood, which explain why Jerusalem was destroyed.
In the time of the Second Temple, an unnamed Jewish nobleman made a party and wanted to invite his dear friend Kamtza. But the invitation mistakenly went to a man named Bar Kamtza, who was the host’s enemy.
Bar Kamtza took the invite as an olive branch and joyfully came to the party. When the host saw this, he demanded Bar Kamtza leave immediately. Bar Kamtza pleaded not to be humiliated and thrown out. He offered to pay for his own meal. The host refused and Bar Kamtza again pleaded not to be shamed before others, offering to pay for the entire party. The host had servants bodily throw out Bar Kamtza in front of all the elite of Judean society. Furious, Bar Kamtza told the Roman occupiers that the Jews were rebelling, beginning the end of society.
I don’t believe this story to be true historically, but I believe it is true in the largest sense. So much pain and suffering can come from people who can’t put their own egos aside and see the big picture.
Speaking of pictures, that brings us to Instagram. I never really did Instagram until recently. Sometimes I wish I’d never found it because it’s driving me crazy.
Instagram is a complex social structure, which already puts me at a disadvantage. How often should you post? When should you like or comment? If a friend fails to reshare your accomplishment, is that a violation of the friend code? (Also if someone could find me a copy of the friend code, that would be awesome. I still struggle with how to interact with other people and would love to just have the rules laid out for me)
And the worst part is the stories. At least on Facebook, I have the illusion that people may have not seen the news, but now I see that people saw it and still didn’t say anything. That makes me conclude one of two things.
- They are terrible and horrible people who hate me.
- I’m not worth their attention because I’m terrible and horrible.
Yes, I’m aware this is not logical. As I said, this social thing is hard for me. Hence, why I want a copy of the code.
Yesterday, I had my first article up at Martial Journal. I was so proud and excited, and I waited for the congratulations of friends. As I reveled in my victory, I found myself playing an accountant.
Who left a comment?
Who had only left a message but didn’t repost it?
Who did none of the above?
As I made the mental list, I found myself burning with anger. I remembered all the times I had been there for those friends and the scales felt horribly unbalanced. Then the fear set in, maybe I wasn’t good enough to deserve their attention?
It led to three separate and really unpleasant encounters with different people in my life, where I was angry at them, as well as scared that they didn’t care about me.
I also had decided to do something extremely catty to someone else to soothe my wounded ego.
A day that should have been about celebration turned into unpleasantness.
Which brought me back to the story of the Host and Bar Kamtza. A wonderful party was ruined and led to the suffering of so many. Because we know the big picture, we can see the tragedy of the situation.
What if the host had said “You were invited by mistake, but I am glad it happened. I appreciate you were willing to try and make peace. Let’s shake hands and put it all behind us. Please, enjoy the party.” He could have even said “Okay, honest mistake, enjoy the party,” and walked away, and returned to celebrating?
What if Bar Kamtza had said “The host was a jerk, but I can let go of the insult and move on with my life?” without destroying the country?
Yeah, it would have been really nice, right? A lot of bad stuff could have been prevented.
We let our egos rule us. We allow ourselves to think terrible thoughts about those we care about, instead of understanding that they are flawed but wonderful gifts in our lives to be treasured for the time we have with them?
After seeing how that day got ruined, I wish I would have said “I love my friends. They are good people and I know they care about me. I am not going to count how often they repost or comment, I’m going to enjoy my time with them because I am lucky to have them. And the person who angered me? It’s not worth it for me to be angry. I’ll let it go because causing them pain won’t do anything but cause more pain.”
I am resolving to spend the next twenty-one days judging the people in my life favorably. I am going to assume that they have good intentions and that they are doing their best. I am going to assume they are genuine and good people who deserve the benefit of the doubt. When I feel scared or angry because of one of these Instagram moments, I’m going to stop myself and remember a time where they showed their true mettle as friends and focus on that instead.
That doesn’t mean I have to accept bad behavior. I must set firm boundaries and protect myself when people are actually being cruel to me. But I should first ask myself a few questions?
Has this person shown that they do care about me and want what is best for me? Are they truly my friends?
Is this person being malicious?
If I answer in the positive to the first or negative to the second, then I must proceed to the next steps:
- Is their action actually cruel or hurtful, or is there another, more innocent explanation?
- Is this something that will matter in a week? A month?
- Is it worth engaging or can I walk away and get over it?
- Can I rationally discuss it and find some compromise?
- Can I do anything to make things better?
Sometimes, I will have to engage. But so much of the time, I can just shrug it off and look at the big picture, and focus on all the things that are wonderful and that I will miss out on if I don’t pay attention.
These twenty-one days, the Jewish people mourn the loss of what is most important, our freedom and self-determination. Petty fears and grudges and arguments fade in the face of that enormous loss. So I’m going to use the time to focus on what matters most, enjoying what I have.
For the next twenty-one days, I’m going to reposition my thoughts. Instead of getting angry that they hurt me, or scared they hate me, I’m going to think good thoughts.
“She didn’t repost my story. She hates me,” will become “She didn’t repost my story. Okay, there are many innocent reasons why they didn’t, and there’s no logical reason to think they hate me. Why would I think something so terrible about such a good person? I remember how kind she was to me when I needed help. I am lucky to have her in my life, and I know she’s proud of me. What more do I need? I’m not going to let this bother me, and am going to move on.”
“He is cold to me and makes me feel bad about myself. Well, two can play that game. I’m going to hurt their feelings back” becomes “We aren’t friends yet, and maybe we’ll never be. But we can be cordial and respectful and polite, and that begins with me. I’m going to be kind. I am not going to let myself be dragged into negativity, which will only create more pain for myself and the people around me. Getting revenge will only make things worse. Disengage.”
That does mean forgiving people for not being perfect. No friend can fulfill every role in your life.
Some friends are the ones who bring you soup.
Some friends are the ones who motivate you to be your best.
Some are the ones who call you when you’re depressed.
Just because they can’t fulfill one role, doesn’t mean they are bad friends. If they are in your life, there’s a reason. They bring good to your life. Treasure them for who they are, and let them fulfill the role in your life they do best.
Each good friendship you have in your life is a mini-Jerusalem. Every chance you have to do good to someone else, even if they annoy you, is your chance for self-determination.
Notice it and nurture it before you lose it.