Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Life 101: How to Deal

Today is actually a pretty exciting day for me in relation to Arbitribe and my blogging career. December 7, 2010, was the first time I ever blogged, on this blog in fact, though the name and concept of Arbitribe was still a few weeks off. It’s interesting to think about how much has changed since then, blog-wise and in my own life, and I’ve been doing a lot of reflection, especially about this time last year. The months of September, October, November, and December are months of great import to me; it seems that some life-changing event happens to me during those months almost annually, an event that will then set the tone for the following year and beyond. However, in 2010 I had five such moments, all within those four months, not the least of which is the founding and official launch of Arbitribe. In the end, those paradigm-shifting incidents all turned out to be positive things, but like everything in this world, there’s the other end of the spectrum to consider: February and March have historically been awful months for me. Some of the most awful things to ever happen to me occurred then, the worst of which would have to be contracting my kidney disease.

This train of thought is starting to remind me of Sign Language and The Learning Curve, which is good because that’s kind of where I was going with this. In those posts and the discussions held in the comments under them, a lot was made over the complete lack of control we have in our lives on a metaphysical level, and so the best thing to do is to control your reaction to an incident and how you let it affect you and your life instead of seeking to control the situation itself. There’s some real wisdom in that and it’s a practice that everyone would do well to adopt, but there’s another side to all of this that I only briefly touched upon in response to a comment under Sign Language and I think that it’s time I devote an entire post to this subject. Today’s lesson: hishtadlut, or as I like to think of it, rigging the odds.

I know most of our readers are familiar with the concept of hishtadlut, but just in case, a little background. A core concept in Judaism is that we believe that God personally oversees all of our lives and has our best interest in mind. However, when confronted with a situation of whatever nature, we have to put in effort on our end to make it work and God will meet us halfway; we’re not allowed to simply sit back and hope God works it out for us. That effort is called hishtadlut.

Now, I know a few months ago I was going on about letting go and realizing that we don’t really control much in our lives and how that can make it easier to roll with life’s punches. That really only applies in a last resort situation or in certain other circumstances though. Hishtadlut is the step that comes before that. Jewish custom and common sense dictate that stuff isn’t just going to work out for you if you aren’t proactive about it, and we are actually discouraged from relying on a miracle. Getting out there and making things work out for you is an integral part of making things work out for you. Surprise! However, it is also true that you can rig the odds as much as you want and things still won't go your way, and that’s where Sign Language comes in.

I seem to be the resident storyteller, so I’ll tell a story to illustrate. I had a meeting with my career counselor at 11:00 AM on campus this morning, and given the ever present traffic that plagues the Van Wyck, I figured that if I wake up by 9:30 and get out of my house by 10:00, I’d be able to get there, park, and get to the building in time for my meeting even if the traffic were to be awful. Since it was an important meeting, I set two alarms and asked someone to wake me up at 9:45 if I had somehow managed to sleep through both. My trying to ensure that I would be awake and out of bed in time to leave by 10:00 was my hishtadlut. On a Jewish level, going to sleep at 2:00 AM and just assuming that God loves me and will have me woken up in one way or another in time to leave is not something we’re supposed to do. It also would have been terribly irresponsible of me from a rational standpoint to behave in that way.

In the end, unfortunately, I slept through both my alarms and the person who was supposed to wake me forgot to do so, so I gained full consciousness around 10:00. I threw myself out of bed, got dressed, wolfed down breakfast, and still managed to get out of the house by 10:15. I thought I was a total boss, but then I hit the Van Wyck in the rain and ended up taking an hour to make a 25 minute drive and I showed up to my 11:00 meeting at 11:20. It was at that point that I realized that I did everything I could to get myself there on time and I was still 20 minutes late, so it must be that on some cosmic level I was not meant to get to this meeting on time, no matter how good my odds were. That acceptance is what I was stressing in those two earlier posts.

The duality of active vs. passive in life is a very tricky thing because there is a subtle line between the two and it is often difficult to determine where exactly it is. The important thing is that there is a place in life for both, and leaning towards either one when it is not the time to tap into it is a dangerous thing. I spoke extensively a few months ago about how psychologically unhealthy activity is when it is time to be passive, and passivity during a time of action can have potentially disastrous life consequences as well.

There’s a famous Jewish joke in which there’s a terrible flood and everyone evacuates except this guy who decides that he has such faith in God that he knows He’s going to save him. When the flood gets so bad that it covers the first floor of his house, the guy moves upstairs to the second floor. A rowboat passes, and seeing him, the passengers shout out, “Hey! Come on in, we’re evacuating.” The man replies that he has faith and he’s going to wait for God to save him. The flood forces him to move up the top floor of his house, at which point another boat passes his window and the passengers call out to him to get in and flee. The man again replies that he has faith and he’s going to wait for God to save him. When the flood forces him onto the roof of his house, a Rescue Squad helicopter catches a glimpse of him and flies over. A crewmember announces over the megaphone that the squad is leaving and this is his last chance to get out before the flood drowns everything, and the man repeats his familiar refrain. The chopper flies away, and a short while later the man drowns. When he gets up to heaven and meets God, he cries out in sadness,” What happened down there? I had so much faith in you and you didn’t save me” to which God responds, “What are you talking about? I sent you two boats and a helicopter!”

The joke has a certain humor to it, but it’s a pretty good example of what I’m talking about. That man was too passive in a situation that demanded action and he lost his life for it. Most situations we find are not super drastic like that, but are still important enough to warrant a little advanced preparation and maybe a plan B. People always try so hard to take a bad hand life deals them and turn it into a royal flush, but I don’t think they realize that in many situations you can just stack the deck so you get dealt a royal flush to begin with. And what happens if you get a bad hand anyways? Fold and try again next time. I’m a big proponent of balance of all things in the world, and this subject kind of plays into that concept very nicely. Being passive or active all the time will only get you halfway there.

So somehow this turned from a post about hishtadlut into a discussion of one of the many dualities of life, but that’s cool with me. Both points are important, relevant, and something I could go on for hours about. I kinda went all over the place there though, so I hope everyone followed my runaway train of thought. If you didn’t, that’s what the comments section is for. Really what all of this, Sign Language, and The Learning Curve come down to is knowing the approaches available for use in dealing with the situations life throws at you and when to use them, and on that note, I’m off to write my philosophy final paper. Let the good times roll.

Song of the Day: Reflections – Mutiny Within


  1. Also pearl harbor. You damn commie.

  2. what exactly is going on here?

  3. Quite simple, you said December 7th is your blogs anniversary. Anon 1 pointed out that it is also 70 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Anon 2 apparently found that funny :)

    Anyhow, Congrats! Maintaining a blog for a full year is impressive.

  4. hrm so maybe I misrepresented myself there, December 7 last year is the anniversary of my first blog post, which was on the now-defunct Red Sea Pedestrian, the predecessor of this blog. We still have the same crew and everything, it's just got a different name and layout now. The official anniversary of Arbitribe is December 25, and I'm sure you'll hear from us on that day as well :)

  5. Really? Jesus was a commie?


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