In the last post, How To Dress Like a Mensch, I wrote about “haughtiness of the spirit.” As you may recall, I was teased by a friend for wearing shorts to a board meeting. A few days later, I read “He who walks in the marketplace with his shoes unlaced is among those who are of haughty spirit.” It made me realize that I displayed a “haughty spirit” by not dressing respectfully.” Not the end of the world, but also not behavior for one who aspires to be more like a mensch.
This week I was yelled at for putting a large cardboard box on top of a stranger’s car in a parking lot. “Its just a cardboard box with a pillow in it,” I said. “It won’t hurt anything.”
“You are rude and inconsiderate,” the man answered. He walked off after that. Although I was taken aback, and really didn’t think I had done anything wrong, I gave it more thought in the context of a haughty spirit. Maybe “He who places a cardboard box on someone else’s car in a parking lot” displays haughtiness of spirit.
I wasn’t sure, so I created a poll on the American Mussar Facebook page. The results were definitive, 11 to 4 in favor of haughtiness. The comments were particularly enlightening.
One person wrote, “As a fairly introverted person, I am very protective of my personal space…including my car.” The soul trait of Humility is all about occupying the right amount of space, as Alan Morinis wrote in Everyday Holiness “ Occupy a rightful space, neither too much nor too little.” It looks like I had occupied too much space.
Another person wrote that my action was “not respectful nor considerate.” This is a violation of the soul trait of Honor, which teaches us to focus on the Divine Spark of others. I was insufficiently respectful of other people.
I even brought this example up with my study partner. We discussed it for 15 minutes. It is a great example of a Mussar choice point, a true grey area. It wasn’t like I dumped a soda on the car, which would be obviously rude. Nor was it bumping the car as I opened the door, which would have been trivial. We decided to give Enthusiasm props to the person who called me out, for “running to do good” to defend his friend’s car.
Fundamentally though, this is about the Soul Trait of Order.
In that spirit, I invite you to try a Mussar practice
****Here’s the Mussar Practice***
Be mindful of where you put things down. When you put things down, think about whose space it is. Is it a common space at work or home? It is someone else’s space? Is it where the thing goes, or are you just throwing it anywhere? Have you put the dish on your coffee table, where it will live for the next two days, or did you take the time to bring it to the kitchen and clean it? Are the clothes just thrown on the floor at night, or did you put them in the laundry?
And you may be on the other end of the spectrum of Order – are you creating anxiety for yourself by being too controlling about how things should proceed?
Remember, each one of us has what it takes to be a Mensch, a person of outstanding character. Mussar teaches us how to become more like a Mensch by taking small, mindful actions in everyday life. Where we put things is part of that process.
In the Mussar classic Cheshbon Ha’Nefesh, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Lefin wrote, “All your actions and possessions should be orderly – each and every one in a set place and set time. Let your thoughts always be free to deal with that which lies ahead of you.”
By practicing Order in this way, we can make sure that we are not impinging on another’s space. At the same time, if we become too focused on Order, we can be making others conform to overly rigid preferences, in effect taking up too much space.
Making mindful choices about where you put things opens the door to balance and healing in order, and other soul traits like Humility and Honor.
Give this practice a try, and come back and let us know how it goes.
Want to know where you need more work to be more like a mensch? Take the Soul Trait Quiz.