This week in the Omer Count is the week of Nezach. Nezach means ''victory, triumph'', when a struggle has been overcome. And yet, the dark side of Nezach is that one person''s victory is all too often another''s defeat. I once heard Rebbetzin Yemima Mizrachi say, ''The biggest thing you win when you win an argument is an enemy.''
It is interesting that Israeli Independence Day always falls around the week of Nezach. And, unfortunately, Israeli Independence Day is inevitably paired with Nakba Day, the Palestinian Day of "Catastrophe". They come as a unit, going hand in unhappy hand.
The conflict reminds me of an idea from Gestalt Psychology on the theme of power dynamics in relationships. It''s called "Top-Dog, Bottom-Dog". The Top-Dog position or personality is essentially the Alpha Male prototype, aggressive, definite, strong, articulate, leading. Top-Dog represents overt, expressed, power. The bottom-dog position on the other hand is all about covert power and unexpressed emotions. The bottom-dog is weak, subservient, acquiescing, complaining, insecure, victimized...the martyr. But this weakness is deceptive because the weakness is actually being used as a strength.
The bottom-dog wields just as much power as the top. For it is the epitome of passive-aggressive behavior (PA). It utilizes subtle tactics such as undermining, learned helplessness, resentment, blaming, in order to control the relationship. The classic example of PA behavior is the husband who hates grocery shopping yet reluctantly agrees to go, sulking all the while. He returns with all the wrong items, mired in insecurity about being such an "unsuccessful shopper". Sure enough, the wife is the bad guy who put him into such a painful situation and set him up to fail...and, most importantly, he is never asked to shop again. The passive-aggressor gets the double benefit of being the ''good guy'' and still getting his way, as opposed to the top-dog who may get his way, but gets forever labeled as the bad guy because of it.
If we were to simplistically apply this framework to the national occurrences around this week of Nezach, then Israeli Independence Day would stand out as the top-dog and Nakba Day as the bottom-dog. Israeli Independence Day is a day of expressed power, flags foisted, jets streaking the sky; a day celebrating victory, national strength, independence, assertion, pride. Nakba Day on the other hand represents the sulking bottom-dog, the wounded victim of the evil aggressors. ''Protesters'' break through Israel''s borders, get shot at in response, and piteously lick their wounds before the concerned eyes of international media. Though they use their fair share of aggressive techniques, their most powerful and effective weapon is passive-aggression....the triumphant loser who actually wins the PR war of pity. (A wing of the PA winning a war of PR using PA tactics?!) While this is certainly an over-simplified view of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I think it offers a prism for understanding part of the power-dynamics at play in the world around us.
And surely these dynamics are equally at play in the world within us. One of the gifts of counting the Omer is that it offers us the opportunity to look into our inner worlds by delving into the themes presented each week by each new Sefira. The political occurrences of this week add fuel to the fire of our inner-growth.
During the week of Nezach, we can ask ourselves how to experience ''victory'' that is actually a win-win situation. After all, another meaning of Nezach is endurance/forever-ness. True victory should mean a ceasing of the conflict, not its drawn-out continuation. Though we may not be able to impact the external political reality around us, we are able and compelled to impact our internal reality. Here at the end of the week of Nezach we are invited to look into our own interpersonal power dynamics and tendencies. Where am I falling into the extreme positions of top-dog or bottom dog? How can I create the lasting good and success for all that comes with win-win victories?
Transformative Torah Tools: Here are 3 essential tools for extracting ourselves from such unhealthy power dynamics:
Consciousness: First, look carefully at a relationship where you are having challenges. Is there an underlying power struggle happening? What role might you be taking to gain power and control in the situation? Take responsibility for your part in the dynamic.
Centering: Anchor in to your place of truth. What is the essential truth and deeply valid reason that you are taking your position? When you anchor in to your truth, you are much less likely to get defensive in the face of someone else''s attack, to give in to another person''s perspective, or to attack another.
Communication: Talk about your feelings clearly and directly. Communication is the key to unraveling those pesky passive-aggressive dynamics which are built upon lack of clear expression. Expressing hitherto unarticulated emotions dissolves much of the negative tension of power struggles. Stick with "I feel" statements, such as "I feel frustrated when I can''t express myself clearly." Express the positive as well as the negative feelings. Mine your emotions for the positive layers of feeling beneath. Instead of simply saying, "I feel frustrated when we argue", add "I feel sad when we argue because I love and value you."
Of course, these steps will not vanquish all of our power-struggles and conflict so that we live a conflict-free existence. Rather, they can help us to work with and work through each conflict as it arises....and in the end, that ability to cope with and grow from each conflict is the greatest victory of all. A victory that is a win-win for everyone. A victory that will endure.
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