Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Observations from my Sabbatical Leave: Defensive Postures

Last week something happened to me that had not occurred since elementary school.  I almost got into a fistfight.

Descending from 10,000 feet, the pilot of my plane had gave the customary direction to turn off electronic devices, and the clean-cut young man (early 30's?) on my right, on his way home to Tulsa, seemed willing to comply.  But after a while, I noticed him thumbing through his email on his smart phone, hidden (or so he thought) on the seat between his legs.  This retrieving and reading was lasting longer that a moment, perhaps two minutes or more, and it was at this point that I decided to ask him to turn off his phone.

I tried to be as polite as possible:  "I wonder if I might ask you to turn off your phone.  The signals, so they say, interfere with the planes avionics."  ('...And I would not want your phone’s pinging to have been the cause of disrupted signals that might have caused our plane to crash…'  No, I did not say that.)

His reaction stunned me.

He turned toward me and stared into my face with something like anger, or resentment.  He just stared and said nothing, trying to judge my reaction to what I perceived to be his 'war face.'  And finally, with whatever feelings he had, he hibernated his phone - he did not turn it off - and placed it in his pocket.

I decided not to press the point, but I had obviously infuriated him with my simple request, and elicited an obviously defensive reaction.

So again I wondered about the human tendency to be defensive when one’s foibles are pointed out.  Why was his reaction not “Oh, I am sorry, let me do what I need to do,” or (playfully) “Hey, you caught me, and I am sorry.”

I know why it was not “Hey, get out of my face,” nor was it a swing at my face.  It’s because he was in the wrong, and he knew it.  He also did not want to create a scene.  But even with that knowledge, he could not bring himself to apologize, or acknowledge his mistake.  (Mistakes are, after all, human.)

I think that each of us, in our own lives, needs to examine this human tendency to avoid admission of guilt, and try to limit our hubris and our constant need to be right.

May we live better lives; may we get along better with our fellow humans; and may we actually grow in the eyes of others when we demonstrate self-awareness and restraint.

This is certainly something to think about, and act upon.

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