Frank Bruni, "The Clintons' Secret Language"
I’m less and less interested in guessing, because I’m more and more aware of how compartmentalized people are, of how flawed and fruitless it is to extrapolate from one chamber of their lives to another. The stingiest spouse and parent can be the greatest boss, and vice versa. Someone who’s selfless and principled in one context is sometimes the opposite in another, as if there’s only so much goodness to go around.
And no chamber resists exploration and explanation like that of a marriage or comparable relationship.
We’re certain that we have it figured out — who musters the most patience, who makes the greatest sacrifices, who’s pure, who’s sullied — until it falls apart. Then we gape at the pieces, because none are recognizable.
We’re certain that social climbing or religious devotion is a couple’s glue, when what matters more is the secret language of goofy endearments that they speak. Or the unremarkable daily rituals that they’ve grown to relish. Or the tempo of his speech. Or the timbre of her laugh.
And when we come to our sweeping conclusions, we’re not perceiving but projecting, and we’re using couples to cling to our idealism or validate our cynicism. It’s a foolish game under any circumstances.
Humans are multi-faceted. Children utilize the simple categories of "good" and "bad" to view others. Adults should be more . . . well, adult about people. That's why it is a shock to me when I hear those who can qualify for social security using terms like "rasha merusha" about the next-door neighbor.
There are times when I—and I admit this shamefully—will succumb and beredt A to B. When B responds, "That doesn't mean she's a bad person!," I get irritated. I didn't say she was. This one aspect of A is giving me grief; that doesn't mean I believe her to be on equal footing with Stalin.
I have made judgements about others because of past bad experiences, or because of my own insecurities, or my own prejudices—as Rivka Silver beautifully describes. Yet people are delightfully complex.
One Yom Kippur, a speaker explained how the strength of the kehilla is formed by the variety of middos we each contribute. One is awesome with tzedaka; one rocks in shmiras halashon; one is da bomb in kavana; one is the bee's knees in kibud av v'eim.
He didn't trod down this path, but this is my own continuation: Do none of these people have other, less stellar quirks? Of course not. One can be speak without thought; one is prone to impatience and anger; one repeatedly misses davening; one has cheated on his taxes.
Where I excel, others struggle. Where I am weak, others bloom. Most of us try to become better. Progress may be faster for her, slower for him. We are all just freakin' human. Remember that, PL.