When I was a kid, I was taught that the world was made up of two distinguishable groups of people: “good people” and “bad people.” And I had the impression that good people always behaved in good ways, while bad people always behaved in bad ways, which was convenient, because then all you had to do to avoid being treated badly was hang around “good people.”
But, lately, I’ve begun to understand that was a big lie because, really, most of us are neither always good nor always bad, we’re just people…
…trying to protect ourselves
…trying to protect our loved ones
…trying to live a good life
…trying to do the “right” thing
…trying to do what is “best”
And even though most of us are just people trying to do what is “right” and “best,” we nevertheless end up having disagreements and conflict, because
1. The “right” or “best” thing to do in any situation is determined by the information that a person has, and…
2. We don’t all have the same information!!
In fact, no two of us has the same information. We can’t, because no two of us has had the same life experiences, not even identical twins whose identical genetics might predispose them to, at least, respond in similar ways to a single stimulus. Therefore, regarding any specific topic, each of us can have a “truth” that is different from every other person’s truth. And, from a purely objective perspective, each person’s truth is equally “valid,” because each is based on a different set of information and experiences.
All of that means the only way we can decrease conflict or resolve disagreements is by meeting on “The Narrow Bridge” . . . you know, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s Narrow Bridge, the one on which we are to stand with “no fear at all.”
That Bridge, where we can meet another and find common ground, is an incredibly holy place, because to stand there we must set aside our compulsion to be “correct”, “smarter”, “in control”, etc., and we must be both able and willing to entertain the notion that every “truth” we ever believed was “wrong”… simply because the information on which we based our belief was a small, biased portion of the universe of relevant data. Only if we are willing to take the risk of learning that we believed “a truth” that was not “The TRUTH” will we have a chance of stepping into another’s shoes and seeing the world from another’s eyes, so that we might understand that person and his truth.
Rabbi Nachman reminds us not have fear as we stand on that Narrow Bridge because our fear will knock us off the bridge before we realize it is happening!! We will start listening for flaws in the other person’s logic or for facts that are inaccurate based on the information that we have, or we will begin formulating our responses, and any of those will distract us from truly hearing everything that is said and, sometimes even more importantly, the things that are not said.
Perhaps, to help reduce our fear, we should remember that the goal of a discussion on The Narrow Bridge is not to demonstrate anyone was “right” or “wrong.” Neither is it for one person to convince another person to adopt his truth. Rather, the goal is for the people on the Bridge to find a new, shared truth, which may or may not resemble any of the possible truths that were known before people stood on the Bridge and shared their information and experiences.
No disagreement or misunderstanding will ever be resolved unless those involved are willing to discuss the experiences and information that led them to believe their individual truths. Only when we can acknowledge that each of us is trying to make the best decisions he or she can with the information available to that person, and only when we are willing to risk standing on the Narrow Bridge – suspending belief in our own truths and listening with an open heart and an open mind to others’ truths, so that we might see the world from others’ perspectives – will we ever have a chance of finding meaningful and lasting peace.
Praying each of you has a Shabbat filled with peace …jen