self knowledge

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I was thinking of a title for this post, and remembered a common saying in Hebrew, but couldn’t think of how to say it in English. So I went to Google Translate and wrote it in the Hebrew window, expecting to find my title in translation. But what I got was: “He who own imperfection invalidates”. Well, that wouldn’t work, so I’ll translate it myself: He who invalidates another, points to his own imperfection. It comes from a volume in the Talmud which deals with problems of government. What it means is that when we want to disqualify someone, the first flaw that we’ll notice is a flaw we have ourselves. That happens because we are most familiar with our own flaws, and we recognize them quickly when looking at others.

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I had an old pair of eye glasses which were meant for working on the computer and for reading books on paper. They were bifocals, so they enabled me to see everything close, as well as little print. For instance, if I wanted to check the ingredients in a box or can of prepared food. But over the years my eyes grew weaker, and it got to the point where I had to make a real effort to read, and when it came to the little letters I’d have to use a magnifying glass. Finally, one of the handles of my glasses broke, and I went to the optometrist.

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Strangely enough, standing at the counter, when asked by my amiable and smiling optometrist how he could help me, I told him that the frame of my glasses had broken, and it was time for another set. I’d be satisfied, I said, if he just copied the prescription onto a new set and put them in a frame I could wear. He looked at his records to check how long it had been since my the previous prescription, and since it had been some time, suggested a free examination. I agreed. We went to the back room and it took a little while. But it wasn’t a disagreeable experience. He’s a bright young man, and I even enjoyed a bit of conversation while reading the same line from different distances as he placed varying lenses in a frame designed for such examinations. And when he finished, he assured me I’d really enjoy the new glasses once they were ready.

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And so I did. When I put on these new glasses, I was just amazed at all the details I saw. And after trying them with my desktop, my laptop, and reading a book, it seemed to me that the quality of my life had just improved greatly. I thought about all the time I had endured visual difficulties without doing anything to ease the problem. The stress of sitting in just the right position so as to be able to read from the computer screen. I know I’m a self indulgent person. But self indulgence could mean running to the optometrist as soon as I had difficulties reading, instead of avoiding the act because I don’t like stores, and don’t like the help of doctors and such.

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This is just one of my idiosyncrasies. There are many things in life that I don’t care for much, and I just avoid them. This is made possible by some very dear friends who are willing to take the trouble so as to make life a bit easier for me. But there are some things I have to do myself. Like buying a hat… or a camera…or going to see a doctor. In those cases, when I have to do something that is to my own advantage, but that I don’t like to do, I put it off indefinitely. Which is in sharp contrast to my normal behavior. I’m a punctual person. When going someplace to meet someone, I’m usually there between 15 minutes and a half an hour before the designated time (with a book in my backpack, so as not to waste time). When I was in business, if I promised a job for a certain date, I was never late.

I am reminded of a comic sequence by Lenny Bruce in which he berated the police of Los Angeles for hiding in public restrooms and watching through a spy hole to catch homosexuals doing something nasty in the toilet. And then as an aside, he said, ‘I don’t know about you guys, but when I go into a public restroom the only thing I’m thinking about is how to get back out as fast as possible’. That’s the way I am when I go into a store.

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But still, looking at myself critically, I just couldn’t excuse the discomfort I had imposed upon myself just because I don’t like shopping. And as I contemplated this defect of mine, it suddenly occurred to me that this was one of the things I most dislike about my country. As I have often complained to my friends, it’s exasperating to watch the way the government will let a problem grow and grow until it’s unbearable before doing anything about it. For example, Jerusalem used to be a very nice, comfortable little city. When I was a young man I used to go almost everywhere on foot. But over the years the city grew; the population grew much greater; and it seemed as if everyone got a private vehicle. The streets bore more and more traffic until they choked up with gridlock. Bicycles would speed past us as we in cars moved at a speed of two kilometers per hour, before they finally decided to improve public transport. Take another example from five years ago, when the ‘militants’ of Gaza started shooting rockets at towns and cities in the south. At first they just shot a few to see how we’d react. We condemned the rocket attacks. So they figured it was safe, and shot hundreds of them. Our citizens kept running to the shelters, and we would shoot back now and then… but still, it took more than a year till we realized it was war.

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According to my favorite philosophical attitude towards initiating change, I would have to change myself before trying to change the country. I’m willing to give it a try. But I tell myself, I’m old. What’s the point? Change is so much work, and who knows how much longer I have to live anyway. Whereas the country is young. It has plenty of time to improve, and it would be such an improvement. But you know what they say about people who tell you, ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’

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45 responses to “self knowledge

  1. I so enjoy your musings, and I agree on every point of shops and doctors, and I do not believe, based on my own understanding of self indulgence, that you are such, and I have no idea what it is like to be a country at war. I pray for Israel and her people’s peace.

    • Thank you very much Ekurie for your prayer of peace. I believe that with peace we can overcome almost all of the miseries that human beings suffer in this world. Peace enables us to develop our finest talents, to show kindness to our fellows, and to enjoy true happiness. That is what I pray for too.

  2. Very amusing; very seriously philosophical, ethical, practical and very truthful.

    It is lovely to see small detail without straining. I particularly liked your varied still life photo and the spectacles with your laptop.You do have some lovely pictures in your ever burgeoning photos library.

    Shabbat shalom

    • On a personal level, it was a great relief to have glasses that brought back the details and made reading a sensual pleasure once again. But I’ve been thinking of nature’s progress as a result of my experience, and it occurred to me that the dimming of eyesight in old age has its positive aspect as well. So often in life, we get caught up in the details. We argue about them, find loopholes, and forget their proportional relevance. Concentrating on details may lead to perfection at times, but just as often it makes us lose sight of the whole. Thanks very much for your comment, menhir. Best wishes for a very good week.

  3. I enjoyed this post, Shimon. It was delightful, because it fits me to a “t.” Thank you for holding up a mirror so humorously and truthfully.

    • A sweet comment, Kitty. How easy it is, and what a pleasure, to forgive the shortcomings of our friends. It’s no accident that my personal Buddha is always smiling.

  4. Brilliant! I am smiling away here and nodding my head! I too am guilty of putting things off as I too loathe shopping…..My teeth will drop out of my skull before I’ll visit a dentist! Yes, it is do as I say rather than do as I do! xxx

    • Doctors and dentists are in a class of their own. We have to surrender our sovereignty over our own bodies to permit them to help us. Shopping used to be easier for me, when we used to go to the grocery or a small hardware store. But for some years now, when I go into one of those commercial malls or big department stores, I’m not at all sure that I’ll ever find my way out. And I am hypnotized within. I’ll never forget the time I found my way out, but then didn’t find my car. I was with a friend and the two of us searched for that car at night for two hours. We could make a movie out of that one, but there’s no action… maybe an art film. Thanks Dina xxx.

  5. Change at any age is difficult. Even in my senior years, I see no reason to frequent doctors or go shopping – except for something that I absolutely need. Nice to know I’m not alone with those feelings.

    • There are some changes that we adopt with enthusiasm, and forget that things were ever different. Others seem to go against the grain, and then we can fall into the same hole over and over again. But the advantage of having lived a while, is that we have a better idea of what works for us. We are a little less likely to be lead astray by sales techniques, though that art too becomes more aggressive as time moves on. Thanks, Bev.

  6. I am so glad you steeled yourself to visit the opticians. You can’t beat having a new pair of specs. Take care, Shimon.

    • Thanks Tish, it’s true. Sometimes all we need is just a little bit of help, and we can continue as before… though I’m aware that I’m losing some of the flexibility I used to enjoy… and that includes mental and emotional flexibility too. Right now I’m thinking of Monty Python’s wonderful Life of Brian; the last scene where they’re hanging on the crosses, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. It was years ago that I saw that one, and I’m still laughing.

  7. A very apt reflexion and something I should apply myself. Thanks for the pictures as well.

    • Glad you liked the pictures Olga. I think if I would have tried to explain them, it might have taken even more words than I wrote in this post. But I can tell you that it’s still the pomegranate season, and I eat them almost every day, and they fill me with the joy of life. Thanks.

  8. Shimon,
    I enjoyed your post. It written almost as if I would have done it myself.

    • You know John, sometimes when I go through such predicaments, and feel lonely and frustrated, so it’s good to hear that I share these tribulations with others. There is consolation in community. Thanks.

  9. I love you, Shimon. Always, cat.

  10. There are so many elements to this post that struck me. First let me say how much I enjoyed the beautiful picture of Nechama sleeping so peacefully.

    You and I have a great deal in common. I do not enjoy shopping one bit…and will avoid like the plague. On line shopping has worked very well for me and so these days everything is delivered to me, including art supplies. The only shopping I do is at my local grocery store which is literally a three minute walk from my flat.

    I also don’t enjoy visiting doctors and like you will put off things until there is a dire necessity to pay a visit. there’s something so intrusive about it all. As far as eyes…I have worn glasses since I was five years old when an acute version of astigmatism was detected. Every time I have gone to a new eye doctor there is always great surprise at my prescription. However, there is nothing more wonderful than to have sight restored with the correct lenses.

    And then there is the key to the whole post…..pointing out issues in others…that we own ourselves. yes, I am also very guilty of this.

    Thank you Shimon, for another excellent post….I wish you and Nechame a beautiful weekend. janet x

    • I’ve been hearing about online shopping, Janet, and it sounds like a good thing, though up till now I have just used the possibility for those things that are hard to get close to home. But I’m sure that that’s the way people are going to buy nearly everything in the near future. These pictures are all different aspects of my day to day life… and that picture of Nechama shows her as she appears often, when I’m working on the computer. Even now, as I write these words, I see her in the same chair and same position alongside of me. Sometimes, when she sits on my lap and purrs, it’s like listening to a metronome as I play at living life. My best wishes to you always, xxx.

      • What a lovely thought…Nechama sleeping beside you and also purring like a little drum 🙂 I do miss having a cat and hope that one day this will change. I hope you both enjoy a beautiful day. Janet xxx

  11. The more I read, the more I wondered where your thoughts were going – and then – pow – the conclusion made everything loud in clear. (Good writing!)

    Change is difficult – extremely difficult. Here’s my change analogy. You are standing on firm land realizing you want/need a new chair – and you find it! But there is a problem – raging water is between you and the chair on the other side’s stable land. One must really want the chair. Some will accept the old one while others want the new one.

    One must have a plan to get the chair. One must be willing to take on the risk of the water to get the chair. If it is a team effort, some will retreat, some may die, but the strongest and smartest will get to the new land of stability possessing the prize. Time delivers the next problem – wanting a new chair. (Hope this makes sense)

    • Your analogy of the chair speaks to me very specifically, Frank. As we approached the new year, I tried to put my immediate environment in order, and as it happened, I had to get a new chair. There’s a conceptual paradox in a task like that, because the chair represents relaxation and comfort… and it can be so much bother getting there. As we grow older, there’s less excitement in the challenges, and a greater desire just to find peace. But what you say is quite true. The reward is in the effort. Thanks.

  12. It is a good thing (no?) to be able to see clearly 😉 Ergo, I look forward to reading even more ‘focused’ writings from you now!

    • I like your suggestion, Amit. Though I have to admit, that I would be satisfied if I just managed to hold on to the focus I have for a bit longer. But the adventure reminds me that often a temporary disadvantage or disability can be a great eye opener for the creative spirit, as I know you know from experience. My best wishes to you.

  13. Oh the folly of humans. I suppose we are just like frogs put in a caldron slowly being cooked to death. I too wear glasses to see as thick as a coke bottle. For fun, I take them out so I don’t see imperfections. I enjoy the joke on the peeper. I hear you about Jerusalem. Mind you, the world is overwhelming.

    • I’m glad you were reminded of that fascinating folk tale that’s really a wake up call. I used to tell my children a story of a frog that fell into a pail of milk. He wouldn’t give up and kept trying to swim, churning the milk to butter. That’s the positive side of the fable. Best wishes to you always from Jerusalem, Perpetua, as we wait and pray for peace.

  14. Hi Shimon.
    Yep…I’ve had a Lot of patients who disliked going to the doctor until after they had experienced me. Works wonders when I’m really seriously needed.

    • I’m quite lucky Bob, that I have a fine friend here who is a doctor, but even so, I always prefer to see him when I’m feeling well and sound. I can well understand your patients who smiled when they saw you. But nothing beats living a healthy life till the end, and then dying in our sleep with a smile on our faces. Best wishes, my friend.

  15. Wonderful photos; loved the ‘specs’ by the computer. It was so ‘Shimon’, as I picture you As to the various dislikes, file them under ‘I’m Human.’ I, as did many who replied, have grown to despise shopping. Amazon has become a favorite word and web site. I visit my dentist regularly because not doing so might lead me down an ever worse path. I visit my doctor if I think I’m truly ill, but in-between yearly physicals, I stay as far away as possible. I’m grateful that I’ve generally had very good health, so staying away has been relatively easy. I also take as few pharmaceuticals as possible. Less is always more in that realm. Bottom line, realizing our own faults is key. I’ve often heard that the faults we criticize in others are faults we possess ourselves….very easy to recognize in others, but not ourselves sometimes. I believe the Christian Bible refers to the criticisms as not casting the first stone….or, under general headings: People in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks. I’m happy you got the new glasses. (As my grandmother would have said: you were cutting off your nose to spite your face when you refused to get help. You aren’t alone in that regard. The circumstances might be different, but we all have our quirks, ones that make us contrary, but also hurt ourselves. Putting off dealing with problems, whether at the personal level or national, is not unusual. I believe it’s human nature to avoid tackling anything that is difficult or off-putting. This is true at nearly any level. Thank you for another fine post, my friend. Blessings.

    • Yes, there’s a consolation when looking ourselves as humans, and not taking every hardship too personally. Though I have my reservations regarding that instruction about casting the first stone. Because that way, we would never be able to judge anyone, since we are all guilty of something. But for the health of society, I believe that we have to draw lines, and occasionally judge behavior that is detrimental to all. Where and who judges, though, is a matter of opinion and faith. Your grandmother and my mother used the same image. As for our contrary nature, I think that’s what’s behind my reluctance to go shopping. Advertisement has become so powerful, that it’s aroused in me a desire not to purchase anything. But these idiosyncrasies of ours are just the details… of a larger picture that should be enjoyed. Good to hear from you, Myra. Best wishes.

  16. An interesting discussion and I am obviously not alone. And.. I just love the photographs that you sprinkle on you post like sugar on breakfast cereal.

    • Thanks very much, Paol. The photos on the post this time reflect my immediate environment, and I’m glad you enjoyed them. We forget at times… but we’re really not so alone.

  17. There is no right age to opt for a change, it doesn’t have to be radical, sometimes is difficult to take the decision to make changes… I know about it, especially when you think you can’t make it because of the age. I’m not much younger than you, and when I think about “what” I could change to make my life easier, the thoughts bring me always there: I ought to change the way I underestimate my capabilities. There is no reason annexed to being young or old, but just the need to be less humble.

    Fortunately here we don’t have wars, but my dad told me many sad stories about the second world war. He did almost 700 days with the uniform, “protecting” our border… he felt stupid and out of place. He was a pacifist, but then you couldn’t refuse to serve your country. He never used the guns or rifle against other men, he told me if he had, he couldn’t shoot and surely he would have died.
    I guess I took much from his behavior, and I feel right.
    About reading glasses: I have a recipe at the office (guess is from 2 or 3 years ago), I needed reading glasses as well, but didn’t want to spend around 600.- sfr. and I found out that in the “2.- sfr. Shop” you can buy reading glasses from 1.00 – 3.50 diopters for two Swiss francs. Well, made in China, and when once you seat on it or drop it on the ground, they broke.
    Furthermore, guess what… I used the name of Nechama for a protagonist in a new novel. 🙂 and each time, my thoughts are brought back to your lovely Cinderella Cat (cinder color).
    Have a lovely and serene week 🙂 hugs claudine

    • It was good to read your thoughts, Claudine, though it seems to me that our weaknesses are far apart. You worry about underestimation and I worry about overestimation. Remembering earlier chapters of my life, I see a mountain and imagine I could climb it. I’ve got ‘big eyes’, and sometimes it’s my undoing. But I’m learning slowly… hopefully. War is one of the most terrible of human tragedies, and blessed is the generation that can live their lives without that shadow. I’m sorry your father had to endure it, and happy both for him and you, that you’ve enjoyed peace in your life. It’s true that personal comforts are becoming easier to attain all the time, and I’m grateful for all the fine tools and conditions that are available these days. So glad to hear that Nechama has been found worthy to have still another life, as a character in one of your books. Thanks so much, and a big hug back to you.

  18. So many layers to your musing, I love it. I put off going to the Doctors till I have a list! Not the wisest course of action. I dislike shopping too and treat that with the same attitude of denial. These traits make us unique and hopefully, that is what makes life interesting. I pray for awareness and peace. ❤ Hugs for you Shimon and for Nechama. ❤ xX

    • Good idea, going to the doc with a list. I’ll have to remember that, because sometimes I forget half of what I was going to tell him, when I’m actually there. When I do go to the supermarket though, I always make a list, but then I find myself buying a lot more than what was on the list… But you’re right, these are the little things… and they do make life interesting at times. Thanks for your comment Jane, and hugs and best wishes to you too. xxx

  19. Spot on! I also need to get my eyes checked, reasons same as yours. Also= nice cat photos. I also hate shopping!

    • There is consolation in knowing that there are others bothered by the same experiences. As for cats, having lived with them all my life, I have to say that you can watch them going through the different stages of life just as we do, from their unruly youth to their sedate and stubborn old age. Thanks for coming by, Bruce

  20. I know that feeling of not wanting to face the facts about eyes or teeth etc
    And yet while we struggle on, the denied feelings seep through and weigh us down.What a relief the man found he could help you.And that you won’t be waiting so long in future, [I hope]
    Enjoy the relief and ecstasy of better sight

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