There was a recent apppeal in Kew Gardens Hills to learn 10 minutes of Mussar every day for a number of weeks to help an ill person, so I suggested a daily 10 minute session to my son. He initial stated that nobody likes Mussar, but after learning for a few days he’s really enjoying it. What changed?
Few people like to get Mussar. Who wants to feel inadequate? It’s a basic human need to feel good about yourself. If we pick up the Mesillas Yesharim and hear it telling us how inadequate we are, any rational person would put it down. And if someone is ineffectively criticizing us, we’ll go to great lengths to eliminate or neutralize the source of pain.
Although we don’t like to get Mussar, we often seem to enjoy giving Mussar. Pointing out someone else’s inadequacies carries an implication that we’re better than that, so it makes us feel better. We overlook the discomfort and pain we’re causing the other person, and the usual lack of effectiveness, since after all we’re doing it for the sake of Heaven and for the person’s own good.
The best answer is to take a learning Mussar approach. The learning Mussar approach starts with the premise that we can always improve in every area. We take the long term view that we’re travelling on a long path and it’s a lifetime journey. Mussar is our guide, it shows us where we can reach, how we can get there, and the pitfalls along the way.
But most importantly the learning Mussar approach gives us an incredibly effective framework for growing with others. It’s no longer I’m right and you’re wrong, but rather let’s travel this long path of growth together. We both have a lifetime of work ahead of us so let’s help each other grow. By taking every life lesson learn to heart we transform our interactions from giving or getting Mussar, to working through every issue together.
Imagine how beautiful our community would look like if we switched from a giving/getting Mussar framework to a learning Mussar together ideal. What if our non observant friends and families really felt that we’re all traveling together on the path to becoming a better Jew. With a learning together attitude, the resolutions to conflicts, will present themselves. It’s really up to us, it’s in our hands to make this difference.