Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Life as a team sport...

I was reading through the obituaries one rainy afternoon recently and something occurred to me. It’s something I’ve thought about before but for some reason seemed to really hit home this time.
The obituaries are amazing narratives, they’re so inspiring, they leave me wondering, why have I never heard of this wonderful person before? Such acts of selflessness and kindness, such dilligent learning and such devoted parenting. And then it inevitably strikes me as being a bit suspect. How can it be that all the people alive are such imbeciles and all those that have past, such saints?
And if its true that people really are so wonderful if we want to see them in that light, why is it so hard to see them that way when they’re still alive?
Could you imagine how repulsive a realistic obituary would look to us? If we would mention all the deceaseds flaws and quirks, it would be an outrage.
On the other hand when someone only sees good in someone still alive, it’s greeted at best with weary cynicism.
And most importantly who is the real person?
Can there be parallel realities?
The answer is yes.
As a matter of fact it’s the existence of parallel realities that allows this paradox to occur in the first place.
The more I think about it, the more I see how layered people are.
Ona basic level we are all mammals and have animalistic needs.
On top of this is a layer of reason which is unique to humans.
On top of these we can have many layers of spirituality but we can never eradicate the layers underneath.
Even Yitzchak Avinu when he wanted to give over the Brachos to his son, wanted to do so with his every fiber of his being. He asked Yakov to come close so that he can inhale the scent of the meat and eat so that his entire being from top to bottom be bound up in his relaying the Bracha.
So the lowest layer in us. The animal in us sees other people as rivals in the world and revels in schadenfreude, in others downfalls. Hence the lure of gossip and slander. Even if there’s no tangible object of the rivalry, there’s always this abstract idea of feeling a bit more superior when someone is perceived as inferior.
Our spiritual layers need to be very strong and persistent to overcome these basic primal urges.
Once a person is dead then he/she ceases to be a rival and that desire to see the bad dissipates and we can freely allow ourselved to read, hear and believe pure good in that person and even be inspired by it.
So how can one overcome the instinct to see someone elses downfall?
How can we ignore the schadnefreude lurking inside?
I think the way to achieve this is by turning life into a team sport.
The truth is in many ways it is already. For instance, one does not feel schandenfreude toward ones children, because they’re not rivals..they’re on our team.
We see this with sports fans, or when we root for an underdog. Any time we live vicariously through someone else or relate to someone else and pull for them, they become part of our team.
The “I” expands. The “I” can keep expanding once we internalize this idea that we’re all on one team with one ultimate goal.
Then we can start writing wonderful articles about people that are still alive and be inspired by them instead of waiting until it’s in obituary form.




Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there's just something about death that makes it seem sinful to think about the faults of the deceased. It all sort of falls away when Death comes and puts things into perspective.

December 16, 2008 3:38 PM  
Blogger the sabra said...

Comments! We can comment!!

A Jew's Basic Level= His Soul

December 16, 2008 4:07 PM  
Blogger chav said...

Am i missing something?

What about all the tributes at dinners and other events to the giving and selfless individuals who populate our communities? Don't they count?

We know they're normal people with all those layers, but when they're up there at the dais, and they mess up their speech, i don't feel the least bit happy about their embarrassment.

And good heavens, why would you put anything bad in an obit? They can't defend themselves...

December 16, 2008 7:24 PM  
Blogger David_on_the_Lake said...

I would hear the death putting things in perspective argument working for a week or two...

For now.
I think it's our most vital level..and our raisin d'existence... Our most basic level..that we share with all creatures..is our physical level.

"On the other hand when someone only sees good in someone still alive, it’s greeted at best with weary cynicism."
I think that would hold true to all the plaudits you were referring to..as well.
Obviously our schadenfreude has limits. We don't someone to really get hurt (or at least be there to see it) and when we see with our own eyes..it obviously can conjure up other temporary emotional reactions that would counteract and override the glee.

And good heavens, why would you put anything bad in an obit? They can't defend themselves...

Thats PRECISELY why...

December 17, 2008 7:02 AM  
Blogger chav said...

i still disagree. what about shidduchim..? people are so enthusiastic, not weary, when they hear someone described as a good person...they factor in the faux-pas themselves, i think that's allowed for.

and the very definition of schadenfreude is "shameful joy, taking pleasure in the suffering of others." so...apparently we really do want people to get hurt! that would fit in with what you say about being a mammal on the most primal level. it's the same reason we're capable of murder.

about the obits...well, do you know any living being who will agree to having their bio published with a description befitting an obit? that in itself is almost shameful. people will want to know what they're hiding...

December 17, 2008 7:48 AM  
Blogger the only way i know said...

I've been thinking similarly..

(on your previous post of magical manhattan - the magic never left me - maybe it's because I get to enjoy it while visiting.. but autumn/winter and all the lights and magic are still wondrous to me(maybe unfortunately for me that I'm still attatched to the lights and all bec they symbolize distraction and materialism without real purpose :( oh well. )

December 17, 2008 8:11 AM  
Blogger David_on_the_Lake said...

As I said earlier. It's possible for other emotions to override this one.
For instance suppose you determine that someone needs to be punished. If you actually stand there and watch your emotion of pity might override what you know is a just punishment. Or children who love picking on other kids will stop if they sense that they've gone too far and someone is really getting hurt.
As for the shudduch I'm not really sure what you mean because you're picking someone to join your team.

Generally the magic is there for me as well. Just not when I'm running to catch a train through a throng of tourists.

December 17, 2008 8:42 AM  
Blogger the only way i know said...

yeah .. :)

btw, when I wrote I've been thinking similarly I meant on this post here (just in case you didn't realize, but you usually do realize .... :)

December 17, 2008 1:20 PM  
Blogger chav said...

No, schadenfreude refers strictly to the sadistic joy people have at other people's pain...it's not talking about any other emotions being present to override it or negate it. Frum Jews (hopefully) have one of the 3 simanim that make us unique: rachmanus. The nazis, y"sh, had in their credo to hate us for that very reason. I don't really know if kids will stop teasing someone because it's gone too far...kids only have a yetzer hara, anyway.

December 17, 2008 7:33 PM  
Blogger David_on_the_Lake said...

I'm not sure what you mean..
Schadenfreude is a term one particular emotion..
It has nothing to say about any emotions that might negate it...
Of course kids will stop if goes too far..when was the last time you heard of 8 year old kids murdering a peer (I mean I'm sure it happens once in a blue moon..but you know that I mean..)
I was only using the example of the kids as a situation of one emotion negating a deeper more primal one..

December 17, 2008 8:32 PM  
Blogger the sabra said...

Bbbut a JEW! He is not a man that has arms, legs and a soul.

He is a SOUL in a body.

(totally forgetting the point of your post..)

December 18, 2008 9:01 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home