Thursday, June 21, 2012

Somebody That I Used To Know

THE FAMOUS WRITER, ALDOUS HUXLEY, once said, “there is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.” Unfortunately, his sage advice all too often goes unheeded. While we know conceptually that, “to err is human,” and recognize that no one is infallible, we find it difficult to apply these principles to our personal lives. Oh, how the world would be a much better and friendlier place if we were all committed to a little self-improvement.

This is the primary message that I took away from Gotye's popular song, “Somebody that I used to know.” While the song does have a fun and unique beat, which, I am sure, has helped it remain the #1 song on the Billboard chart for 22 consecutive weeks, it is the lyrics that provide extremely valuable and meaningful insight into the sad state of affairs that accompanies those people who are unable to reflect on their lives; people lacking in self-awareness.

So let's get to the song: a fellow who we will call Jon, is involved in a serious relationship with a woman whom we will call Jane. Jane is in love with Jon, but the feeling is not mutual. Yet, Jon remains in the relationship until she breaks it off because he did not want to hurt her feelings. Following the split, however, she ignores him and treats him like a stranger, going so far as changing her phone number so that he can't contact her. Jon expresses his anger and disappointment to her and demands an explanation. From his perspective, this is more than undeserved; he remained in a relationship with her so that she wouldn't be hurt!

If the song stopped at this point, our hearts would bleed for Jon for being a considerate, giving, and kind man. But it turns out that Jon isn't as great a boyfriend as he thinks. She explains how badly he has hurt her throughout their relationship; blaming her for any issues that arose between them. For a while, she dealt with it. But eventually this mental abuse wore her down and she decided to erase him from her past, becoming to Jon, somebody that he used to know.

Had Jon been more aware of the psychological damage he was causing Jane, he would have been able to establish a friendly relationship with her. But Jon only noticed that he was making the sacrifices for their relationship, when in reality, he was also the cause of unnecessary pain and hurt. Had he spent some time reflecting on his attitude and behavior, things may have turned out differently. He has no one to blame but himself.

Our Rabbis teach us that personal inventory/self-criticism is something that must be done before going to sleep each night. This is what we call a “Cheshbon HaNefesh,” taking stock of our actions and behaviors. If reflected upon critically, a “Cheshbon HaNefesh” will help us recognize our mistakes and improve for tomorrow. If Jon would have utilized this ancient method of reflection, I am sure that he wouldn't have lost a friend.

Scripture states (Proverbs 4:26), “Consider the path of your feet and all of your paths will be established.” If we are able to unlock the power of our own self-improvement, we will be able to avoid repeatedly making the same mistake. Even though we do not enjoy taking ourselves to task for our errors, a “Cheshbon HaNefesh,” has the power to be transformational because it forces us to be honest with ourselves and requires that we pledge to improve.

Let us all rededicate ourselves to self-improvement and commit to becoming better and better each day. And in so doing, I am sure that we will improve our lives and enhance the lives of others.

Rabbi Joshua Hess is rabbi of Anshe Chesed in New Jersey.