Judaism: Frustrations: The Jewish View
Every day of life automatically brings with it a share of frustrations and disappointments. Very rarely do things turn out for us exactly as we planned and hoped that they would. Some frustrations are relatively minor even in our personal scheme of things – my inability to easily change a halogen light bulb or carry a tune for instance. Other frustrations such as health problems and financial difficulties and reverses take on a greater dimension in our lives.
One can easily say that our ability to deal with life’s frustrations in a calm and measured way is the true test of character and mettle. Usually frustration leads to feelings of anger and anger leads to bitterness of spirit and even to violence. I have seen articles by professionals in the field of human psychology that advocate expressions of anger as often being a positive reaction to frustrations.
“Blowing off steam” is an understandable reaction to moments of extreme frustration. Yet the Torah and Jewish tradition militates strongly against such expressions of anger in almost all circumstances of life. Maimonides, who advocates moderation and a middle of the road approach regarding all human behavior traits, nevertheless advocates extremism in avoiding anger.
The Talmud is replete with statements denigrating anger as a response to the frustrations of life. Anger is a statement that there is no God present in the world. Anger by its very presence is heresy and a denial of faith. That being the case, how is one to deal with the inevitable daily frustrations of life? Are there no antidotes to the roiling emotions of frustration that fester within us so regularly?
One such antidote, that Jewish tradition advances, is the idea and sense of perspective in viewing life. If one is viewing a painting by a great impressionist or pointillist artist, one is advised to view the painting from a distance - not close up. When standing close up, the canvas appears to be composed of disconnected blotches of paint that carry forth no message or scene.
Standing ten feet away from the canvas the genius of the artist is revealed. Instead of seeing individual small blotches of paint one views a masterpiece of color and form. If in our lives we stand too close to the mundane occurrences that are our daily lot, we are very prone to life’s frustrations and all of the negativities that they produce within us.
Life must be viewed as a whole and being aware of the general picture can help us deal with the particular issues that confront us. The rabbis went so far as to teach us that a living human being should not complain about life’s circumstances and problems – is it not sufficient that the person is still alive?
The Jew begins one’s day by acknowledging the fact that one is still alive to live another day. In the overall scheme of such a view of human existence frustrations and disappointments are more easily borne and dealt with. Perspective is the key to mental health and spiritual strength.
Acceptance of one’s inherent limitations is also a necessity in combatting the negativities that life’s frustrations engender within us. There are many things that I simply cannot do. By finally realizing that I do not have that necessary skill, talent or ability, I am no longer as frustrated by my inability to accomplish that mundane act and goal that so baffles me.
Professional athletes always proclaim the mantra that they have to “play within themselves” and “not try to do too much.” Bluntly put, this means that they recognize their limitations and concentrate on what they can do, and not fret too much over what they cannot do. This is a good lesson for all of us in all of life’s circumstances.
Of course, acceptance of one’s limitations demands a lowered ego. It is interesting to note that Maimonides, in discussing acceptable traits, links humility with the absence of anger. Someone who is haughty, arrogant and full of hubris will automatically live a life of frustration and anger. Things never go right for such people for everything that does not go right for them is perceived as a personal slight and as a blow to one’s ego.
The great men of the Lithuanian Mussar Movement used one’s reaction to life’s frustrations as a litmus test of one’s spiritual status. Serenity in life and in dealing with life’s challenges became the hallmark of the truly pious Torah Jew. The prophet taught us that “the wicked storm is like the raging sea.” King David blessed God for “leading him to the calm waters.”
Life is always replete with frustrations. How we deal with them is the true measure of our spiritual selves.