In our mutual quest for “menschi-ness” for ourselves, our family, and our coworkers, let’s explore the value of Shalom Bayit, or peace in the home and at work.
While creating peaceful environments is complex and nuanced, there are a few things that tend to diffuse, rather than add fuel to the fire. And while it is easy to feel more than a little resentful that you are once again doing this work, Judaism is pretty clear about a woman’s more sophisticated capacity to manage relationships and her strength as an ezer kinegdo, an opposing helpmate.
Because sometimes, for the sake of the larger goal and a higher value, we must express our opposition. But until we can learn to do so without creating havoc and leaving an emotional mess in our wake, we will likely have to take a holistic approach and set aside being right for doing right.
It took me a very long time to figure out how to establish peace in my home. So long in fact, that our nest was nearly empty before I managed to hit that sweet spot. But fear not: it is never too late to model these traits even for your adult kids, and God willing, for your grandchildren one day, too.
Between my stubborn controlling nature and my husband’s creative (ahem) responses to my micromanaging, everyone in our household revolved around my moods and emotional whims. One morning, my eldest son warned his four-year-old brother during carpool, stage-whispering, “Just be quiet! Don’t talk right now. She’s in a mood.” I remember the shame that washed over me as I realized that I was being handled by a seven-year-old. And I also remember thinking, why does he get it, even when my husband doesn’t?
My menstrual cycles and off-the-chart PMS were part of the problem. My lack of impulse control and tendency towards responding with anger, instead of sadness, which was usually what I was really feeling, was another.
So, what I am going to share now is all about me – isn’t everything? – all about what I had to work on and change, and how I needed to evolve in order to make our household function more peacefully. And while the others in my home had their own role to play in the bedlam, please swallow that jagged little pill of truth and know that the only thing you can truly change is yourself, your reaction to others, and even your reaction to your own thoughts.
There are some hacks along the way that work to bring peace and balance even if you are 100% faking it before making it. While Judaism eschews hypocrisy or false representation of self, it celebrates the capacity to “act as if” in order to improve one’s character – and in order to pursue peace.
The most famous biblical example would be Moses’s brother Aaron, who was known as a master of creating peace. In Hebrew, he was called a Rodef Shalom, a pursuer of peace – and even he sometimes manipulated the truth in order to create peace between one person and another.
So, whether in your home or your office, with family or co-workers, there are two simple words that, when given over calmly and with conviction, are the roadmap to peace. Those words are: I’m sorry.
And what’s more, you need to learn to apologize sometimes even when you are in the wrong. Practice saying, “Oops, I blew it” or “Wow, I sure got that wrong” to prepare yourself for the moments when you’ll really need to say them. Know that sometimes you can win the battle but lose the war. Valuing peace over the moral superiority of being right is a gift you give yourself.
And saying ‘I’m sorry’ to restore peace is not a capitulation or an admittance of wrong necessarily. Apologizing does not always mean that you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means that you value your relationships more than your ego. Because we are sorry that whatever happened caused a breach of peace in our homes or office. We are sorry for our role in any misunderstanding. We are sorry for the fallout and tension in the room, even if we didn’t cause it. Few of us like the nuclear frost post turmoil and arguments.
Apologizing to my kids was a big breakthrough for me. Apologizing for past infractions or present limitations. Apologizing to my spouse was a breakthrough; I am still trying to wake up my husband from that fainting spell the first time I uttered those words. When I first started making it my business to be the first to say sorry, I had to silently say this to myself after the words left my lips: “I’m so sorry, although I did nothing wrong, and it was totally you, and all I am apologizing for is that I hate it when it’s tense around here. So, I am trying to make things less icy. I am sorry for any role I had to play in this mess but mostly I am just trying to make peace and improve my character. And remember that hashtag #sorrynotsorry.”
I am a Canadian. We apologize for everything. It’s how we roll. And perhaps that is because we are peacekeepers rather than warriors. We are lovers, not fighters. Now this is not to say that there are not times where you are owed an apology. Just don’t sit around waiting for it. A peaceful home or office is a more conducive environment to getting that apology you think you deserve. Or not. And the hardest apology to accept is the one you will never receive!
A mensch prioritizes peace and pursues it. A mensch who knows that the value of a decent apology is not thinking less of themselves but rather thinking of themselves less. Because shalom also means symmetry, balance, and wholeness – and that is the ultimate environment for love to thrive.
Sending all my love. Sorry if this was triggering or if it caused you any pain.