Thursday, May 11, 2006

You can't handle the Truth!

Cynics are lonely.
Cynics think they see it all, they know it all, they understand it all.
They see what others are too blind to see. They realize things others aren’t even aware of. It’s the cynic against the blind, cheerful, brainless world.

Would I sound arrogant to say that I know what the cynic sees, and I think the cynic’s wrong?

I’ve often been called a cynic. I used to think that I saw THE “reality” of things while the rest of the world lived unaware of the horrible, mind-boggling truth. People just couldn’t handle the truth. But I, on the other hand, being the truth-seeker that I am, never wanted to be deceived or fooled by naïve interpretations and wishful thinking.
I was a cyniic, but these days, I prefer to be called a “realist”.

It occurred to me no too long ago, that what the cynic sees is not the reality. The cynic is wrong because he assumes there is one reality, one truth, and everyone else is seeing it wrong through their rose-colored glasses.

To the horror of post-modernists, we, as frum Jews agree that there is ONE truth. There is one G-d and one Torah. That’s the Truth, with a capital T.
The problem is that we assume that one truth implies one reality, and I don’t agree with that.
Reality is subjective, based in the person experiencing it. We’ve all read those “judge others favorably” stories, where one person thinks he sees someone doing something, judges him unfavorably and then discovers he did not know the full story. Judging other’s favorably entails accepting the fact that someone else might be living a different reality than the one we are experiencing or viewing, it means accepting someone else’s reality as being equally valid as our own.
The thing is that, once we are able to accept that in others, we can then start accepting that in ourselves. Our realities are constantly changing too. What might have been our perception at one time, might not apply at a later time. When we accept that our realities are constantly changing, we accept growth into our lives. Learning and growing involves questioning ourselves, second-guessing our perceptions, not accepting blindly and critically analyzing our thoughts and behaviors. Learning and growing brings us closer to Truth, and that in the end is the ultimate goal, to be connected to the Truth.

So now back to the cynic in me. I used to be a cynic, and now I’m a realist.

I’ve always been a truth seeker. People have called me argumentative, cynical, confrontational, negative, but all I ever wanted was to find the Truth. Critically thinking implied pushing my limits, and those of my peers and teachers, until I got to the root of the matter, ntil I get past the subjective realities around me, and reached the Truth.

What I’ve learned is that being aware of my reality does not give me more access to the truth, if anything, it can distance me from it. It can block me from realizing that there are other perspectives and other ways of interpreting events and situations.

I used to think that all those “happy” baruch-hashem’ing clone-like religious folk were going through life wearing rose-colored glasses, oblivious to the sad realities of existence, and too lazy to find out or deal with it. I wanted to be the martyr that would drag my feet through life, fully aware of all the negativity – and survive.

At some point, in the recent past, after many years of pure, unadulterated cynicism, I decided to try a different approach. I decided that just as every action I take can either bring me closer to G-d or further from G-d, that maybe, every thought I have can be just as significant. I decided to reframe the way I question what I see and experience. I decided that the reality I was experiencing wasn’t as real as I had always assumed, and that maybe I could change that reality with my thoughts.
And that’s what happened.

I started to see Torah obligations as tools to bring me closer to G-d, I started seeing my challenges as opportunities to grow and I started being less judgmental of myself and of others. The relativity of reality that I discovered suddenly made it much easier for me to deal with the difficulties I encountered because all I had to do was stick my head out of my box and I reinvent my reality.
I became master of my reality.

Now I know you cynics out there are rolling your eyes, mocking my new found positive outlook, but I think you should know that as a reformed cynic, I feel like I’m getting the last laugh.
Sure it’s a lot harder now, I need to actually put thought into my thoughts. But just as I don’t want to live on instinct, like an animal does, I also don’t want to think on instinct. Its easy to judge, its easy to be negative, its easy to criticize, its much harder to look deeper into things and find reasons and meaning. It’s much harder to twist my brain around a supposed reality I’m facing and to look at it from a different perspective, one that brings me closer to G-d.

I want to give an example of this that I experienced today. For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading a whole bunch of blogs discussing the issues and problems facing the frum world – and for some reason, Lakewood in particular. In the past, my initial reaction would be to completely buy into it… and sigh – after all if someone is criticizing and venting and ranting, it must be “real”. But, with my new reality-altering glasses on, I’ve been trying to use my critical mind to figure out, on my own, if what they are describing is the truth, or just their version of reality.

One issue that was particularly bothering me was the issue about men’s shirt colors. It seems that every blog mentioned the issue about men being judged for their shirt color, and I just didn’t get it. I couldn’t wrap my brain around any kind of logic that could make sense of that kind of superficial rule...but I kept my mind open. And then I read David's blog where he explained why he wears a white shirt - and it hit me. There is a logical reasoning behind "the white shirt", there is meaning behind it. Some people choose to follow it and some don't.
I’m not saying I agree with people being judged for their shirt colors, or that I agree that this is “frummer”, but I see the logic in it, I see a new reality, and that brings me closer to G-d, not further. As a truth-seeker, as a realist, I appreciate that. I appreciate being able to come to my own conclusion on the matter, and creating my own reality based on positive outlook and not an instinctual negativity.

The black and white picture above is an optical illusion - what did you see? was it the word "Liar" or a man's face? who's reality is correct?


At Friday, May 12, 2006 1:22:00 AM, Anonymous Marc said...

I believe the theorists and analysts have concluded (notably founded on the work cemented by Wittgenstein) that one can see both images, yet only one can exist at any given moment. This is the limitation of language, ironically extracted through the use of the letters l-i-a-r to form the "lie"

At Friday, May 12, 2006 7:44:00 AM, Blogger zenjew said...

hey anonoymookie,

believe it or not, cynicism is a form of judgement as well. Whenever you choose to look at objective reality a certain way, you're making a cognitive judgement to look that way--weather it be optimistically, pessimistically, cynically, or "realistically". when you get beyond your mind, or behind your mind, as many of those on the spiritual path hope to do, then you've acheived some sort of mind-less awareness of objective reality that actually reflects real, objective reality!

on a jewish note, r' hutner, in the first ma'amar to pachad yitzchak on purim, talks about the power of cynicism in terms of it actually being the defining characteristic of amalek. he translates "Laytz" as cynic, as someone who is not receptive to any self-improvement, because the cynic, as he puts it, always looks for the weakness of an overall structure in order to undermine the entire structure based on that one weakness....amalek were the first to attack b'nei yisrael because they thought they saw the "reality"--really they saw one weakness and undermined a nation that was previously feared by the entire world...also that's why a "laytz pushes off one hundred tochachot"--because a laytz is someone of a mindset that's entirely not receptive or open to consideration....he always closes down because he thinks that since he sees weaknesses in things, he sees *through* them.

anyways, that's my whole take on cynicism. personally, i'm not someone who's overly optimisitc in life, and walks around baruch hasheming all day, but as a general approach, i always try to keep an open mind to anything new or different.


At Friday, May 12, 2006 10:32:00 AM, Blogger A Frum Idealist said...

Very good points. It actually reminds me of one of frumgirl's posts from a little while back. I think she even had the same illusion/pic.

At Friday, May 12, 2006 11:05:00 AM, Blogger anonym00kie said...

eran, i dont know if you'll read this, but i just wanted to thank you for sticking my reality-altering-glasses on my face this morning! thanks for pulling me out of my miserable, dark, cynical, hating place and not letting me get away with it!

to the rest of you who read this - if i ever blog from a negative-reality mood, please make sure to rub my face in my own blogging!

At Friday, May 12, 2006 11:30:00 AM, Blogger FrumGirl said...

I'm so glad you are able to let go of the negativity! Isn't it liberating? It has become my motto and way of life as well.

The following line has been overused but... perception is reality.

At Friday, May 12, 2006 12:09:00 PM, Blogger kasamba said...

FAB post!
I so know where you are coming from!

At Friday, May 12, 2006 12:46:00 PM, Blogger David_on_the_Lake said...

Thanks for the mention...
I will just echo those before me..and say..You have a gift for expressing things...and laying things out clearly..

At Sunday, May 14, 2006 2:42:00 AM, Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

Wow, very well said.

At Sunday, May 14, 2006 6:41:00 AM, Blogger the only way i know said...

very interesting thoughts....I agree wholly with putting thought into thought - lately another thing I have been rallying to do in my life.........
it's hard -
because the truth is hard to swallow many times
but it is far more rewarding
nad doesn't clog up your brain - let's you take the next step more assuredly....
cynicsm - is an attitude I think - perhaps also a channel that reaches the truth - in it's own way.. as long as one is open-minded.
good luck!

At Sunday, May 14, 2006 5:54:00 PM, Blogger anonym00kie said...

marc, that’s the difference between the body and the soul. Maybe the body can only see one image/reality at a time, but I think that the soul is infinite and can be trained to see from different perspectives, at the same time.

zenjew, I think we are all living in our own reality and G-d is playing a role in each one of these realities. Our realities sometimes collide and we get a small glimpse into someone else’s reality but I don’t know if these ever merge or if there is one “objective” reality, aside from G-d’s. To me, going behind my mind, sounds like allowing myself not to be dragged down by illusions, faulty emotions or ego and going into a purer place where I can connect to G-d’s truth. Personally, I have found that in order to do that I need to rid myself of my cynical eye which disconnects, so I can be open to other people’s realities.

Frum Idealist , that’s a good sign when others have written what im writing about, means im on the right path!

FrumGirl – VERY liberating – Rabbi Kelemen needs to come out with a new book – Permission to be Positive!

kasamba , David, Lvnsm27 - thanks!

theonlywayiknow , it is a struggle, at least for me, but I definitely see the results and its so worth it


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