Would you like a mussar practice for Trump angst? First a question: If you hate Trump so much, why do you keep talking about him?
I asked that question to a close relative over the weekend. We were sitting together, watching TV when he said, “I am smarter than that guy, referring to a sports expert.” He had a little grin on his face, and from the way he said it, I could tell that he was lampooning Trump’s statement that he was smarter than Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
In another conversation about the suffering in Puerto Rico, someone said “the problem is that Puerto Rico is an island, surrounded by water.” She looked at me expectantly, with almost a hunger for me to engage.
A few months ago, I posted something on Twitter, and out of the blue someone tweeted the “That explains Trump.” I made no response, and I imagine a great disappointment in the poster that I did not take the bait.
In each case, it appeared that the person was looking for me to justify and feed their anger. I see the exchanges on Facebook all the time. One person rants, and their friends jump in, either agreeing or disagreeing. Everyone is angry.
If this sounds at all like you, let me ask you: Is this the life you want to live? Is this what Judaism teaches us, to feed anger and disaffection? I know, we are supposed to speak out against injustice. But what injustice are we speaking about when we bring up Trump out of the blue to make fun of him? Here, you are just feeding the anger within.
The Talmud teaches “Whosoever yields to anger, if he be a wise man his wisdom leaves him, and if he be a prophet his prophecy leaves him.” (Pesachim 66b). In modern language, the Talmud is saying that when we get angry, we don’t think straight, and we do things we may regret. I know that when I am angry, I say and do some really hurtful things to the people I care most about.
In addition, insulting Trump instead of talking about actual issues amounts to gossip, which in Hebrew is known as lashon ha’ra. The Talmud teaches that harmful speech kills three people – the speaker, the listener, and the one being talked about. Rabbi Joseph Teluskin argues that avoiding gossip allows the speaker and listener to form a closer relationship because they are forced to focus on each other. Thus, when we bring up Trump at random times, we lose an opportunity to really connect and get to know other people. It may feel good to share misery, but it won’t actually make you feel better. And it won’t help you form community.
Instead of giving in to the urge to mock Trump, practice the Soul Trait of Silence. In the Mussar classic Cheshbon Ha’nefesh, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Levin wrote, “Before you open your mouth, be silent and reflect: What benefit will my speech bring to me or others?” One way to begin this Mussar practice is to write Levin’s phrase on an index card or sticky note, and put it on your bed table where you will see it in the morning. Read, chant, and/or contemplate it for a minute to begin your day. This will make you more aware of thoughtless speech in general. Next, stop and reflect before you say anything. As you become more mindful of your speech, you can choose to avoid the mocking speech we discussed above.
Lets consider a world in which you don’t bring up Trump at random times. It opens the door to focus on positive things that bring you energy and joy. I’ve seen it happen again and again – a positive conversation gets derailed into anger, frustration, and cynicism. Instead of allowing your negative side to bring the conversation down with insults, look for an opportunity to bring the conversation up. Staying present and plugged into the world is both empowering and life affirming. After all, our mission is Tikkun Olam, repair of the world. And mocking speech never repaired anything
Mussar has soul traits to help us focus on Tikkun Olam in the face of anger and despair. It is not enough simply to say “No Trump thoughts” or “keep it positive.” A full mussar practice for Trump angst requires a strategy to focus on something else.
Come back next week to read a post on moving from anger to Tikkun Olam.
Want to know which soul traits you need to work on? Take the Soul Trait Profile Quiz.