The father of general semantics, Alford Korzybski stated, “A map is not the territory it represents, but if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness”. What this means is that our perception of reality is not reality itself but our own version of it, or our “map”.
This message was brought home last week in a short introductory speech at our Shul’s Simcha Beis HaShoeva. I made a positive statement about the Shul, and a friend questioned that statement. I explained that my statement reflected my experience, and I was sorry that his differed and he didn’t share my positive views regarding this issue.
Later in the week, I re-read a piece that I had seen a number of times by Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe z”tl about connection and estrangement. Here is an excerpt from Sara Yocheved Rigler’s take on the topic:
According to Rabbi Wolbe, there are two parallel universes: the World of Connection and the World of Estrangement. These are two completely separate worlds. The World of Connection is characterized by love, joy, tranquility, optimism, harmony, generosity, faith in God, etc., while the World of Estrangement is characterized by animosity, anger, resentment, anxiety, sadness, criticism, worry, fear, etc. When we are feeling critical, we cannot feel love.
Although a person can flip from one world to the other very quickly, no one can be in both worlds at the same time, just as when looking at a Rubin vase, one can see either the white vase or the two black profiles facing each other, but not both simultaneously. Human beings are neurologically wired so that we cannot see the vase and the profiles at the same time. Human beings are spiritually wired so that we cannot be in the World of Connection and the World of Estrangement at the same time. When we are feeling joy, we cannot feel fear. When we are feeling critical, we cannot feel love. When we are feeling resentful, we cannot feel tranquil.
Making worthwhile changes to a Shul takes time and effort, but we can change our individual Shul experience at each moment by choosing connection over estrangement. We enter the world of estrangement by criticizing, getting angry, speaking loshon hora or judging negatively. However, we can choose to enter the world of connection by giving a smile, giving a hug, giving a compliment, giving emotional support, giving thanks, giving the benefit of the doubt, or forgiving.
This does not mean that we take a Pollyanna position and ignore things that need attention. Nor does it discount the difficulty when we are wronged. But the more we internalize the benefits of choosing connection over estrangement, the more we will improve our experience of both the Shul and its members.