“Didn’t you get insulted and offended by the terrible things those hateful supremacists said to you?” Chloe Valdary, the gifted founder of an impressive mode of interacting with others, once asked this question of black musician Daryl Davis. She was fascinated by what had enabled him to succeed in convincing hundreds of KKK members to renounce their beliefs. His answer was impressive. “I’d say to myself ‘What does that have to do with me?’ I know my self-worth.”
Not taking outrageous insults personally can require an iron core. If you’re like me, meeting negative comments with velcro comes more naturally than meeting them with teflon.
Most of us carry lots of emotional baggage and insecurities. We can be hardest on the person we meet in the mirror each morning. So becoming better company with ourselves is a lifelong challenge. Such a quest for inner-contentment and self-worth is at the heart of Chloe’s inspiring approach. She notes that what we love about Disney films is that we see ourselves and our potential reflected in their content. Stories reliably involve a flawed character, facing obstacles, who is able to heroically emerge transformed by whatever challenges they face.
Jewish history’s treasury of resilience reaches beyond Disney’s mythic formula. It offers tools for coping with painful endings and stunning reversals. It urges us to train our inner core, to practice a kind of spiritual pilates.
In this week’s portions of Torah we hear something rare: the actual voices of the Children of Israel. One of our communities careful readers and teachers, Larry Cohen, pointed out that virtually every time the people speak, they seek additional responsibility. They want to bring more offerings, make more vows, expand land-holdings, ensure tribal inheritances, and apply the law fairly when accidents bring about wrongful deaths.
Still, they have shortcomings to be taken personally. The glaring example in this week’s portions is of near national-collapse when some tribes seek inheritance east of the Jordan River. It’s noteworthy that, in the midst of Moses’s confrontation with them, the phrase ‘close to God’ (lifne adonai) appears seven times (Num. 32:20,21,22,27,29, 32). We work on our shortcomings with our God – firmly, yet tenderly – presiding.
A strong core that keeps us fit – spiritually, psychologically, and socially – is something we don’t have to struggle to build alone. May the ways and means of our ancestors help us become better company with ourselves. And may doing so ready us for vexing challenges today and tomorrow.