Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I am not the do-er

Rabbi Ethan Franzel, who was our scholar-in-residence this past weekend* long ago taught me a kind of mantra. "I am not the do-er." When someone over-criticized you, you say to yourself, "I am not the do-er." When someone over praises you, you say to yourself, "I am not the do-er." What this person is (over-)reacting to is not what you did, but something else. They are acting out some other issue on you, because you, and your action, got to close to their "real" issue.

* and who, it must be said, was awesome

Of course, Rabbi Franzel is a mystic, and so he believes that this is not just true for over-reactions (although it's most useful there, perhaps). It's really true of everything that we do. Even the things we do, we didn't really do them.

It's a farily esoteric idea, and not one I can do justice to. At least, not in a quick blog post written when I really should be prepping for Passover. But, here's one hint of an explanation. From the New York Times, of all places.

Nicholas Kristof wrote an article about the origins of our political ideologies. What makes me a liberal? Why are you (if you are) a conservative? And, if you've read any of this kind of thing before, you know that the answer lies almost entirely outside the realm of logic and rational choice. I am not, for example, in favor of Universal Health Care because I have rationally looked at the pros and cons of the issue and come to the conclusion which best suits the data. I am in favor of Universal Health Care, independent of rational reasons, and then I unavoidably construct an argument in favor of that view. It takes quite a bit of counter-data to shake me off of my instinctively arrived at position. And, this isn't just about me, or about this issue, of course. This probably applies to everyone of us, on almost every issue about which we care.

But, it gets even kookier when he talks about some other experiments. It seems that, at least in some cases, it's not hard to influence people's views in subtle, but distinct ways:

A University of Toronto study found that if people were asked to wash their hands with soap and water before filling out a questionnaire, they become more moralistic about issues like drug use and pornography. Researchers found that interviewees on Stanford’s campus offered harsher, more moralistic views after “fart spray” had been released in the area.

That's right. The views which I hold so dear, which make so much sense to me, which I can't understand why anyone would disagree with, they are so right, is malleable under the influence of soap or farts. 

It makes you wonder if you actually really believe anything at all.

There's plenty in the article interest, and probably offend, most of us. That's well and good, but that's not the point of this blog, at least. The point of the more spiritual one: my views aren't “mine” in the way that I think they usually are. They aren't something which I have attained by myself, for myself. They, like probably every aspect of my personality, happened to me. Or, to put a little differently, I don't have opinions, opinions have me.

Trust me. I am not the doer. And, neither are you.

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