William Hamilton

Better company with yourself

“If you only give once a month, please think of me next time.” Optimism-coach Simon Sinek once suggested this wording for a sign held by someone on the roadside in need of help. 

Why? Because it expresses empathy for the potential giver. Instead of trying to invite the giver into the plight of the asker, this wording considers more carefully what’s going inside the head of the giver. If you’re in a position to give, two concerns weigh on you: 1) you can’t give to everybody, and 2) you want to sense the sincerity of the person who’s asking. 

Do we grant ourselves the same sort of empathy? That is, can we be more compassionate with what we’re going through? Not when things are going our way. Self-care is easy at such times. But what about when we’re being harder on ourselves, how can we stir a teaspoon of self-compassion into those moments?  

I’m talking about emotionally arresting moments. You know them well. When you’re in the grip of anger. After you’ve simmered down, and only a good while after, try to ask yourself, “Why did that upset me so much?” Maybe you have a hard time with yourself when you fail to speak up. Perhaps you hate being belittled. Maybe you get frustrated when you get distracted and fail to focus on who needs you most. All of these get under my skin. 

Whatever inflamed your emotion in that moment, let it teach you something. In doing so, you’ll ensure that it wasn’t in vain. Next time, if you can recognize it sooner, you may be able to pivot ever-so-slightly and try to compose yourself in a way that will be better for you.

Steer in the direction of the skid. Yes, it’s hard. Really hard. Your reflexes jolt you in the opposite direction. But your most jarring emotions can teach you more about you. 

The sages burrow inside a verse in this week’s portion of Torah:“Don’t take a bribe, because it blurs the clarity of your vision” (Ex. 23:8). Rabbi Eli Kaunfer, teaches this week about a subtle concept that the rabbis call verbal bribery. A remote consequence of doing favors, even the slightest favors, for others. Like giving someone a helping hand out of a boat. Or removing a feather that’s floated onto someone’s head. It’s designed to sensitize us to subtle gestures like returning a nod or waving back warmly. 

It invites us to discern our inner motives and morals with care. To be attentive to our moral hygiene. Leonard Catz zt”l embodied this norm in its noblest form. He was a beloved tzadik (inspiration for righteousness) who passed from our midst late this week. He lived aglow with belief in the possible and gentle blessings of gratitude. We will miss him dearly.

“If you only give once a month, please think of me next time.” You can say this to yourself, too. In being more generous with yourself, may you become better company with yourself.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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