Walking Humbly Through the Looking Glass of Self-Righteousness

During my midlife crisis, which started when I was around 37 and ran well into my 40’s, I dove head first into spirituality, among other things.  I was determined to “find myself”!

Kabbalah was one of the most significant teachings that came across my path, and I still live each day rooted in its principles.  As part of my studies, I decided to throw caution to the wind and take a trip to Israel with the Kabbalah Center.  I couldn’t wait to go, until I got there and realized how alone I was, in spite of the fact that there were thousands of us traveling together.

I eventually met up with two sisters and their friend, Mike, and we all spent the day together.  It was a great day filled with exploring, eating and shopping, and I finally felt more connected to the experience.  A little over half way through the day, the two sisters return to the hotel, and Mike and I decided to spend the rest of the day together.  We had a lot of fun, until the walk back to the hotel.  I was tired and bitchy and my feet felt like they were on fire because I wore the worst possible shoes!  I don’t recall what I said to upset Mike, but I must have said something that wasn’t very nice.  He responded by saying, “You are so self-righteous!”

“What did he just say?”  “Is he serious?”  “He doesn’t even know me!”  I thought to myself as I became increasingly irritated and defensive.  “How dare he say that, I’m a nice person!”  “What a jerk!”  “%*&^$#%^@!” But then something happened that I had never experienced before.  I took a few deep breaths and thought to myself “Am I self-righteous?”  When I got quiet and looked inside I could see HE WAS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, I WAS SELF-RIGHTEOUS!  I never realized I was self-righteous before and nobody ever had the guts to tell me, but I can assure you, they were thinking it!

Mike woke me up to the fact that I was self-righteous; previously I was in the dark and had no choice but to continue to be.  I recognized for the first time that hearing something seemingly negative about myself was actually a precious gift.  I heard teachers mention this concept, but I thought they were all crazy.   “How could an insult ever be a good thing?”

This realization drove me to do a mini social experiment; this is how I “prove” everything before I buy into it, maybe this was just a fluke after all.  I started paying attention to the comments people made to me, to others and the reactions these comments elicited.  Sometimes people got defensive, I observed, and sometimes they didn’t.  Once I made a mental spreadsheet of my findings, I came to the conclusion that in every negative comment there are two very important things to consider.

First, if somebody says something offensive to me, my job is to look inside to see if it’s true.  I have found that if I get even the slightest bit defensive, there is some truth in what they are saying or else I wouldn’t feel the need to defend.  The next step is to be honest with myself so I can see where it is true.  The gift here is in knowing oneself.  If we know ourselves intimately, it’s easier to create healthy boundaries, and as a result, we are able to truly love ourselves and do what is in our best interest.

Secondly, I have to remember that they are very likely telling me exactly how they feel about themselves.  In this case, I am their mirror, and they are seeing in me the things they haven’t resolved.  As they say, “If you spot it, you got it.”  If they are awake to the fact that I’m their mirror, they win too, because now they are clear about something they needed to see in themselves.  It’s a beautiful thing!

It may not always be crystal clear or an exact comparison.  For example, if somebody calls me disrespectful.  My first thought is, “Am I being disrespectful?”  Chances are I am if someone is calling me on it.  My next thought is, “What am I showing them in my mirror that they need to see?”  It may be that they are disrespectful, and it’s that simple.  But perhaps they are being disrespectful to themselves by putting others needs in front of their own, or by overeating, overspending or overworking.  It’s possible they are having thoughts that are disrespectful towards themselves; they aren’t thinking or speaking kind words about themselves. In most cases, I noticed during my social experiment, the two people are brought together to help each other.  In my case, I realized he was right, I am self-righteous.  I’m incredibly grateful to know this because I don’t want to be.  I also realized that I was his mirror because he was self-righteous too.  I hope he also received the gift of knowing that night, but that’s his business, not mine.

Learning I was self-righteous was an amazing gift a stranger gave to me in the 12 hours we spent together, and this gift has permanently changed my perspective.  Now when somebody gives me a piece of their mind, I really listen. I wait for the sting to go away and then I dive in because I want to know the truth.  Ignorance is not bliss.

The next time somebody throws an insult at you, consider looking inside to see if it’s true, and also consider having compassion for the person who said it to you because now you know the truth about how they feel about themselves deep down. Just keep in mind, it’s not your job to point it out to them. We all have our own path and our own learning curve. As tempted as you may be to share your findings with them, be grateful for the gift and just breathe.



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