You Should See the Other Guy

We are now in the midst of the Ten Days of Repentance, that started with Rosh HaShanah (Head of the Year) and ends with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). It’s a time for introspection, for evaluating one’s actions over the past year and committing to improvement should God bless us with more time.

I always find it disconcerting to discover that the character flaws that I examined last year—and the year before that and the year before that—are often the same ones I revisit this year.  Occasionally one gets to pat oneself  on the back for having made some change but, being human, there is always more to do.

I don’t know if this is my own personal failing or if other people grapple with this as well, but I sometimes find myself aiming for humble soul-searching at the same time as a script plays in my mind along the lines of, “Well, o.k., so I showed a lack of (fill in the blank) when I did (fill in the blank), but compared to (fill in the blank) I don’t think I’m doing that badly.” After all, in a world filled with some really bad people, I consider myself one of the good guys. In a world filled with lots of complacent people, at least I can say that I try.

Of course, that logic is terrible. God isn’t comparing me to anyone other than me. I don’t get demerits for not being on the level of some of the great women alive today but I also don’t get any points for not making the list of today’s top-ten evil women.  I’m not being compared to those who lived long ago or who are yet to be born. God alone knows my potential and how much more I could be than I am.

Still, the natural urge to compare ourselves to others that can serve as a spur to excellence when channeled correctly, easily turns into a game of one-upmanship. Too often, our means of valuing ourselves seems to require devaluing others.

I thought of this when I read a piece praising actress Alyson Hannigan’s response to a question from her eight-year-old daughter.

“I recently got asked a dreaded question by my oldest daughter,” Hannigan said. “She asked me if girls can do the same things that boys can do. Your heart just sinks when your daughter asks you something like that. For that one, I think I had a good answer. I told her that girls can do everything boys can do, and more because we can also give birth!”

The actress was interviewed at a charity event donating her time and name to a good cause. I’m sure she’s a lovely woman doing her best to raise her daughters and keep her marriage strong in a difficult environment. I have no intention of directing any personal criticism her way in what I’m about to write. But, since she’s in the public eye (she has a main role on a popular TV show as well as having appeared in a number of movies) her words got attention. I think her response typifies the problem I’m suggesting. The articles I read spoke of her words as empowering and awesome. I disagree.

If I was caught off guard, as parents often are, the first answer that might have popped into my head could have been along the same line but with a twist. For an  eight-year-old, I might have said, “Boys and girls can do most of the same things. God made our bodies different so that when they grow up girls can be Mommies and boys can be Daddies. Together, they can have babies and build a wonderful family.”

The best approach might be to answer a question with a question. “That’s an interesting question. What made you think of it?” Knowing what prompted the question lets a parent direct the answer more specifically.  No matter where my answer led, my focus would be that any child should be the best that he or she can be and that it is possible to be interested and excel in many areas even if an individual wants to pursue something different from most of his or her friends.

But putting boys down in order to “empower” girls is no better than putting girls down in order to “empower” boys. If the response to historical bias (which is more complex than female-empowerment experts would have us believe) is to simply to encourage a previously downtrodden group to delight in reverse prejudice, we’re not doing anything of which we should be proud. Our daughters, like me at this precious time of year, can aim for reaching for wonderful heights without needing to find people who land beneath them.

38 thoughts on “You Should See the Other Guy”

  1. Virginia Lee Blood

    Dear Susan,
    You got me to thinking. And, I think you’re exactly right. How wise you are.
    Blessings and love, Virginia

  2. Ms. Hannigan was in a tight spot, as I am sure you will agree. There have been celebrities who opened their mouths and ‘misspoke’ to the ruination of their careers. This is especially true when one considers the malicious roving eye of today’s leftist media police, seeking whom they may next devour. Having said that, I must praise her response as said, ‘in a tight spot.’ Actually, I like your considered response much better, for it turns on its ear the laughable feminist dialectic that there exists no difference between men and women, and that men’s ‘cultural imperatives’ are responsible for all women’s ills in this world.

    Even more I applaud your wonderful notion of inspiring daughters to “aim for reaching for wonderful heights without needing to find people who land beneath them.” Likewise, my daughter with three wonderful children uttered a glowing, wonderful gem of inspiration “I do not compete with men. I neither aspire to be a man, nor to be like a man. I was put on this earth to do things that men cannot do.”

  3. This article is wonderful! I wish everyone understood the point you are making. Life is definitely not a See-Saw… you don’t have to put someone else down to go up. And also your term “reverse prejudice” is a perfect description for a sad but rampant problem.

    1. Ben, the more materialistic one’s view (versus spiritual) the more need to think that the only way to rise is to push others down.

  4. I am a Christian and I love so many of the Jewish traditions. I love the encouragement given to the children when they are growing up. Also the Friday night blessings to the children. I certainly did not grow up encouraged. My parents sent us to a church around the corner so they didn’t have the be bothered. It was a shock to find out when I was 12 my parents grew up in a completely different denomination and did not believe the. doctrines of the church we were attending. This is the kind of stuff that give psychiatrists lots of clients!! May the Lord continue to bless your ministry.

  5. What a great response to the question. I’m going to memorize it so I won’t be caught off-guard. Also, your second response was is a great way to interact without answering a question that was never asked. It shows real humility instead of the hubris exhibited by those who think they already know the real question. Or, those who don’t really care what the real question is if the question asked gives them an opportunity to promote their agenda. You are always so kind, thoughtful, and respectful. And, you’re trying to improve on that? I wouldn’t know where to go from there. I’ve been reading your musings and the Rabbi’s thought tools for years (and books) and you two never fail to uplift and enlighten. Thank you so much.

    1. I wish I was “always so kind, thoughtful and respectful.” When writing, there’s a wonderful ability to erase and amend. Even then, there isn’t unlimited time so that I can read something I wrote and wish I had phrased it differently. But we can all keep striving to improve.

  6. A girl can do anything a boy can do, but why would you want to be someone else? Enjoy being yourself, but be your best self. Wise words as always Susan.

    1. Andrew, there’s also a world of difference when speaking about an individual boy or girl vs. the general groups. In the article I linked to, they are trying to say there’s something wrong with suggesting that girls chat more than boys. I think that statistically that will be true even if you force parents to talk to baby boys and girls exactly the same. There are group differences.

    2. I have to say that the saying a girl can do anything a boy can do is incorrect. Can you imagine any girl attaining the weight lifting ability of a Mr. Universe? I think that is physically impossible. Even if a girl trained extensively that ability wouldn’t happen. Would any trained military female troop be able to carry any male troop out of harm’s way in a combat situation? I wouldn’t say any or every female could.
      So while we humans think in terms of comparison God made each of us uniquely and we all have a God given destiny that is ours alone. And to tell our children blanket statements like girls can do anything boys can do is not necessarily a helpful response nor a truthful response. Better to have given a response such as Susan’s.

      1. Faye, I actually started to write the point you are making and deleted it as leading me in a different direction. But I did hint at that in the current “On Our Minds” column. You are correct though I wouldn’t put anything beyond “one female” or “one male.” Outliers don’t make a case for the general public.

  7. Great article Mrs.Lapin,lets mesured ourself with God expectation not with the regular mundane one.Enough of it!
    God do not exalt M over W,or viseversa,our possibilities are beyon imagination.

    1. I echo your call, “Enough of it!” I truly cannot understand the people who purchase T-shirts insulting boys or men and think that shows how strong they are.

  8. But putting boys down in order to “empower” girls is no better than putting girls down in order to “empower” boys.


  9. Well said as usual, Susan. I believe Benjamin Franklin ran into similar difficulty, finding himself guilty of the sin of pride over how well he was doing with the rest of the virtues he sought to develop. A related work worth reading is Christina Hoff Sommers, “Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women”. We are all children of God, and our differences are important. It is so refreshing to have you stick up for traditional values.

    1. I have read that book, Deb, and agree that it is worthwhile. As an aside, I recently finished reading Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography.

  10. Susan, thank you for the reminder that this is a season of contemplation and introspection and gratitude.

    This past year has been a difficult one for me. I see it now that I’m on the other side as a time of God’s plowing the ground, tearing it up and preparing it for seeds of blessing and growth should he spare me for a new year(s). I just want to grow properly!

    You and Rabbi Lapin are inspirations to me with your wisdom and cheerfulness. Thank you.

  11. Excellent article Susan!
    The question does what the left does best, pit one group against another so you will be too busy to pay attention to what they are actually doing!
    I believe, through God’s Holy Word, that we are here to complement each other. God has made us individuals, with individual gifts. It’s the left that continuously wants to have us all be the same. With them in charge, of course!
    Do what you do best and to the best of your God-given ability, and you will have a happy and fulfilling life.
    That I am good at building a rocket doesn’t belittle my wife because she writes the program that sends it to Mars!
    God’s blessing upon you Susan and Rabbi Lapin!

    1. Lawrence, I don’t think human nature changes, but our challenge is to overcome it. One difference, in theory, between people is whether we elevate human nature and feel it should rule us or whether we think we should channel human nature, which often means dominating it.

  12. I love what you have said here. It resounds with the Lord’s words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah. “I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Though those words were spoken to Israel communally at a time they were in exile and in despair, they are also a promise to each of us who are part of the Lord’s people. As such, male or female, Jew or gentile, rich or poor, we are each of us unique and called to fill a unique role in the Lord’s creation. Thank you for the reminder. Chag sameah and may you and your family all have an easy fast this Yom Kippur.

    1. Joyce, I am only getting to see these comments after the fast of Yom Kippur. It was a wonderful day. I’m fortunate in that I fast well and could enjoy the prayers here in Jerusalem which were truly beautiful.

    1. Dianne, there’s a narrow line between pride in one’s own family and group and discrimination against those who don’t belong. I think we suffer because so many people don’t take pride in their country, for example, but taking pride doesn’t mean gratuitously attacking other countries.

  13. As you have probably guessed, I have had many different co workers in my 77 years.
    There was fellow who I just could not get along with. We disagreed about everything from politics, to religion, social issues. Even how we should be doing our jobs. One day he came right out and said “Tucker, I don’t like you”.
    What I could have and should have said was – Well Jack, why don’t we go have coffee and talk about our differences. maybe we can work something out. what I said was ” Good I’d hate being liked by an idiot”. Needless to say our relationship went way down hill from there. Hopefully I learned and something and grown from that experience. But as the old Dutchman said, Ve get too soon oldt und to late schmart.


  14. I so enjoy your writing….

    A Christian for 26 years, it is only in the last several years that I have become aware that what I used to think were Jewish holy days are really ‘our’ holy days…. the Lord’s holy days. Although my life has continued to get better and my understanding deepens as each year passes, the personal reflection you speak of does often bring me back to reviewing some of the same weaknesses over and over again. So grateful that He is so willing to work with and in us to lessen, if not eliminate these failings.

    Comparing myself with others, attempting spiritual ‘slight of hand’ by pointing the finger at others when discussing my failings with Him is such a fruitless maneuver….and yet, I sometimes fall into that trap as well. I used to promise both me and Him that it wouldn’t happen again, now I pray that He help me to be honest with both of us.

    Thanks again for sharing your heart with us.

  15. Once again, Mrs. Lapin, you have added to the chain of parenting “pearls” I have been collecting from you and your husband over the past many years. In response to your reply to Ben – I believe the current ” selfie” culture goes beyond taking pictures. These same folks think of themselves as most important, not caring upon whom they tread to meet their goals. They are certainly not “trying to please G-ds other children”, and so will not reap the spiritual nor monetary rewards Rabbi Lapin so often writes about.

    1. Thank you, Mrs. A. Because I can see your email (although others can’t) I have to tell you that I kept an Ask the Rabbi email from you years ago that I meant to (and said I would) respond to in a Musing but never did. I owe you an apology for that.

  16. Here is a quote from one of the leaders of my LDS church: “The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined.”
    I’m not saying these are manly characteristics. However, as I read your musing this time, this quote came to me strongly and I wanted to share it in a tangential way.
    I really get that point especially about asking for further clarification before launching into a speech of wasted breath. I am still learning this bit of wisdom, but I am getting better. It would be a good characteristic for our country to rediscover.

    1. Lora, I can’t tell you how many times I talk and afterwards realize that I would have been smarter to ask questions first so that I could really understand what the subject of the conversation should have been.

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