By Steve Klein
When I started writing my last column, I intended to tackle the idea of being impervious to praise and blame, and then ended up talking about being “right” and never got around to it. Of course, the two are linked. One reason we like being right is that we tend to get praised when we are and blamed when we’re not. But even when we’re right, inevitably someone, (especially if we’re married), at some point, will blame us anyway.
Therefore, as with so much of life, the trick is not so much to arrange outer circumstances so that we never get blamed, but to arrange our inner landscape in such a way that we don’t take it so seriously when we are. Eruch used to love to tell the story “Is that so?” in which a person responded to both extravagant praise and unjust blame by merely commenting, “Is that so?” This was the equipoise Eruch said we should have.
Of course, this is easier said than done. It seemed to me that the mandali had an interesting method of trying to help those working with them to become more dependent upon one’s inner sense of pleasing Baba, and less so on the opinions and reactions of others. They did this by, for the most part, giving praise or blame without much correlation to one’s actions. Thus I could accomplish what seemed like a great feat in my eyes, and the mandali would appear completely indifferent, never even acknowledging my action. Or they would simply nod their heads as if it was understood that the work would get done and, again, wouldn’t say a word of praise. Sometimes, they might even find fault with what I had done, or criticize me for using my initiative.
I found this disconcerting, to say the least. And then, every once in a while, out of the blue, Eruch might suddenly launch into a peroration of praise because I had done something absolutely trivial, like putting a stamp on an envelope. I don’t know how others reacted to this but I found it maddening. I was hungry for praise, but for something I deserved; this effusive and excessive commendation seemed like mockery.
It took me years to begin to discern that my desire for praise was just another attempt by my ego to perpetuate its separateness, its feeling of being special. I sensed that the mandali wanted us to feel special not because of who we were, or what we did, but simply because Baba was within us. And, concomitantly, they wanted us to persevere doing the right thing, not because we would be praised for it, but simply because it was what Baba wanted us to do. They were alert to always direct us towards seeking His pleasure, and not theirs.
By making their praise and blame so random, they sought to wean us from seeking praise or fearing criticism altogether. Or at least this was the conclusion I came to. A feeling that was strengthened as I noticed that even when the mandali disagreed with something someone had done, if the motive had been to serve Him and not merely to aggrandize one’s self, then they respected this.
My sense was that the mandali wanted us to always focus on doing what He wants and to not worry about whether others approved or disapproved of our actions. This didn’t mean ignoring others, or arrogantly asserting ourselves; it might mean apologizing profusely even when we felt we had nothing to apologize for, but it also meant persevering in seeking His pleasure, despite the reactions our behavior might produce. I can’t pretend that this is a lesson I’ve mastered, but it is something I try to remind myself of when I get too puffed up with praise or disheartened by blame.