People are very often critical of others. One common criticism will be discussed in this article. Parents sometimes describe to me their children’s inconsistent behaviors. They’ll describe how some children won’t Daven, but will always Bentch. They’ll describe a child who is Mechalel Shabbos, but will never miss a day without Tefillin.
Inconsistent behavior is worrisome. Some parents highlight their children’s inconsistent behavior in order to introduce the possibility that their child has real “issues”. Sometimes, people like to speak about their peer’s inconsistent behavior in order to prop up their self-image. When the inconsistent behavior is extreme, people become more worried, and concerned, that that those inconsistent people are manipulative, and dishonest.
Speaking objectively, all people are inconsistent. Anyone who’s not perfect is, by definition, inconsistent. Why then, do people worry about the inconsistent behavior of others, and ignore their own inconsistencies?
To better understand this, imagine the following three individuals. One would never steal; one wouldn’t steal, but would take money that doesn’t belong to her/him, such as when s/he’s given the wrong change at a store; and one who’s a con artist.
Which two of those three people are most similar? Most people would consider the two who wouldn’t steal to be in the same category. Most people would consider the con artist a crook, and in a separate class.
The Torah’s attitude is different. The honest person is someone who’s committed to never take what doesn’t belong to her/him. The difference between the other two people is only in degrees. The one is more timid, and less aggressive, which is one of the reasons s/he would never steal. However, s/he doesn’t have a moral resistance towards taking what doesn’t belong to him/her.
Most people would never steal, but aren’t as careful when faced with an opportunity to take money that’s not theirs. They still want to be perceived by others and, more importantly, themselves, as being honest. However, to categorize them as honest, they must further distance themselves from con artists, who, by their own willingness not to be fully honest, resemble them more closely than they want to acknowledge.
Some inconsistent people try to convince themselves that their choice of inconsistencies are not as bad as those of others. They rationalize that their inconsistencies are “typical”, and this allows them to believe that their behavior isn’t inconsistent. They may say something like, “Many people who learn the Daf talk during Chazoras Hashatz”, but they’ll conclude “I don’t understand how anyone learning the Daf won’t pay loans back on time”. They’re (choosing to be) oblivious to the fact that those who don’t pay their loans on time, wonder how people can talk during Chazoras Hashatz.
They’re unaware that they’re rationalizing their inconsistent behavior, based on their cultural background. Their view of inconsistencies is subjective, and unrealistic. This is important for the following reason:
When children are criticized for acting inconsistently, it’s usually because their “choice” of inconsistency is not the “culture” of their family. Children have their own culture, regardless of whether they’re at risk or Bnei Torah. Many parents can’t understand how a Yeshiva Bochur can go to the latest possible morning Minyan when they’re home (after saying Shema, and going back to sleep), but spend hours picking out the perfect Arba Minim.
In addition to acknowledging that all people are inconsistent, there’s a second reason that people shouldn’t necessarily be critical of others who act inconsistently. Most people are works in progress. A work in progress, by definition, has inconsistent behavior, but isn’t inconsistent. These people should be encouraged, and not looked down upon. The child who won’t Daven, but insists on kissing a Mezuzah, may be growing, even if the parents can’t fathom it.
In addition, there are teenagers, and young adults, who are making horizontal moves, which are neither up, nor down, and are inconsistent. Adults must recognize that they also do this. They’re “locked” into their personal choice of which Mitzvahs they will or, won’t, or are considering doing. It’s the individual’s culture which decides, for them, which behaviors are considered inconsistent. This allows them to believe that their choice of inconsistencies are acceptable, and those of others aren’t.
This subject is part of a larger topic which is necessary for healthy, “Torahdick”, thinking. People have many thoughts that are “off-kilter”. They seem to make sense, and are almost always correct, although they’re slightly “off”. Dissecting the several statements (I don’t talk during Davening, he does; without considering that, he pays loans on time, and I don’t), and placing them into a vacuum, may produce the logical conclusion that, “I’m good, he’s bad”. “My inconsistencies make me “normal”, his doesn’t”. However, when one is objective, the conclusion seems to unravel.
What defines people as being truly “alive”? Alive is defined as “creating” versus destroying. Not thinking is a comatose existence, and is not really “alive”. Healthy thinking, bound by objectivity, is rare, but is the form of thinking that makes people truly alive.