Elul: Compassion for My Inconsistencies
Calliope abandoned me on this morning’s walk, and I am grateful. Her music plays too many of her beautiful ideas in my head to recall when I am back in front of my computer. I am grateful for her peaceful absences as I am for her symphonic appearances. I am most grateful for her inconsistencies. I never know when she will appear, nor, how loudly she will play. She may disappear for a few days only to reappear with a concerto or sonata. Her inconsistencies are her masterpiece, as they remind me of my numerous inconsistencies.
In his “Memoirs”, Andrei Sakharov cites the great Polish philosopher, Leszek Kolakowski, who wrote: “Inconsistency is simply a secret awareness of the contradictions of this world, a permanent feeling of possible personal error, or if not that, than the possibility that one’s antagonist is right.” Sakharov quarrels with the word ‘inconsistency’, which he would replace with one that “conveys my belief that intellectual growth and social awareness should combine dynamic self-criticisms and a set of stable values.”
Kolakowski’s ‘inconsistencies” and Sakharov’s idea of self-criticism powerfully resonate throughout Elul, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We examine ourselves and usually find inconsistencies. We attempt to repair damaged relationships and are forced to consider the possibility that our antagonist is right. Elul and the Days of Awe are full of dynamic self-criticisms based on a set of stable values.
We believe that it is wrong to speak Lishon Harah – the vocabulary of evil – to speak negatively of others, and yet, we often do. We believe that we should judge others favorably, yet we slip and often react viscerally without giving the benefit of doubt.
We are not hypocrites; we do not preach what we don’t believe. We believe what we say but we slip and behave inconsistently with those beliefs. Elul is our opportunity to catch those inconsistencies and search for more integrity. We recognize that we live in a world of contradictions, are haunted by possible personal errors and we criticize ourselves without mercy. But Elul, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur add mercy and compassion to our criticisms. We are able to approach God in our imperfect, inconsistent state and attach to Him despite our failings.
All we need is to add that same element of mercy to our dealings with others and consider that we may be the one who erred, and that our antagonist may very well have been right.
So, thanks Calliope, your inconsistent appearances have allowed me to face my own with compassion.
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