Eisenbud’s Odyssey: Psychic compost

More than any life skill, it’s the ability to transform problems into solutions that distinguishes the best of the best – and has kept Jews heads and shoulders above hateful enemies for millennia.

Gears turning in head picture 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Gears turning in head picture 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Far more than any other natural phenomenon, I’ve always been most fascinated by compost and its counter-intuitive, yet far-reaching, applications for enriching life. I realize this sounds somewhat uninspired, but if you think about it, compost is anything but.
Indeed, taking the seemingly worthless refuse we all accumulate day after day, and converting it into a healthy fertilizer to fortify our environments, serves as a powerful metaphor for how we can also use the psychic pain we derive from negative experiences in life to create compost to grow, and become stronger.
Without question, compost is instructive in explaining how Jews – and Israelis in particular – have flourished despite inhabiting the most inhospitable environments for millennia, all the while having an unrivaled amount of destructive trash thrown at them, as if for sport.
If there has ever been a group of people who have proven Nietzsche’s chilling maxim, “Whatever doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger,” it’s the Jews.
They’ve done this by recycling all the deadly garbage and hate directed at them into a resilient – even majestic – form of fertilizer to create and enrich, instead of destroy.
In short: by turning problems into solutions.
CERTAINLY, IT’S easy to use all the waste we collect to construct a toxic environment, fortified by cynicism, anger and hate. Any fool can, and has, done this since the beginning of time, with reliably self-defeating results.
One need to look no farther than Nazi Germany, Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah, Islamic Jihad – and every other hate group, past and present – as textbook examples of energy that is used to destroy life, instead of being recycled to enrich it.
It’s those among us who take that exact same toxicity (metaphorically and literally), and find ways to convert it into healthy fuel who go on to reach great heights interpersonally, professionally, and perhaps most importantly, psychologically.
If thousands of years of subjugation and discrimination have taught us anything, it’s that we must make the most out of the horrible hands we’ve chronically been dealt by relying entirely upon our own ingenuity – and the limited natural resources we possess – to turn garbage into greatness, even against inconceivably bad odds.
Indeed, Jews are the “MacGyvers” of the earth.
It’s this very resiliency and innovation that has made Israel an unrivaled “start-up nation,” and propelled it to miraculous heights, despite the many challenging limitations and opprobrium it faces.
To be sure, Sabras know that wallowing instead of working constructively to convert hate and debris into fuel to better their lives and society, is a sucker’s bet in an existential struggle.
THAT SAID, the unhappiest and least productive people I’ve met in my life are those who don’t do anything remotely constructive with the problems they accumulate; opting instead to marinate in their anger, self-pity and thoughts of victimization until they create a radioactive dump.
By not extrapolating the potentially useful elements from their negative experiences to grow and learn, they continue to degenerate, ostensibly serving as curators in personalized museums of pain, which have no utility other than generating more pain and suffering for themselves and visitors alike.
Ultimately, such people fuel their anger with their problems until the problems define them, and they too become toxic.
While their rage and indignation may be entirely justifiable – even appropriate given any unfair scenario – they cannot succeed because indulging in such feelings, instead of converting them into a proactive response, only results in further deterioration.
Without exception, the best advice I ever received professionally and personally was to transform the many challenges I faced in life into solutions, instead of problems. This strategy, while requiring me to spend a considerable amount of time examining my own trash, has paid off considerably by forcing me to become industrious and regenerate it into something healthy and useful.
PERHAPS NO sub-group in human history illustrates the principle of psychic compost better than Holocaust survivors, many of whom went on to great heights after being imprisoned in the largest, most toxic dump site ever constructed — by building loving families, successful businesses and happy lives.
Certainly they didn’t succeed by giving in to the hate, profound victimization and degradation that could easily have indelibly defined them.
They succeeded because they worked tirelessly to transcend and transform the radioactive garbage, pain and destruction into a sustainable and vigorous environment – an achievement that the greatest scientific minds would be hard-pressed to replicate.
Israel, which was built on the backs of these great men and women, may be the finest example of successful and inspired recycling in the history of the world. Of self-determination.
To be sure, this country will continue to make a desert bloom 100 years from now, come hell or high water.
IF WE adopt a similar philosophy, we too can empower ourselves and our communities by creating beauty out of the abundant ugliness that surrounds us.
From taking proactive measures to become happier and healthier individually, to helping others by mentoring troubled young people, supporting research for cures for cancer, autism or any other malady afflicting our families and friends, to doing what we can to prevent violence and bullying, there’s plenty of material to work with.
Our challenge is, and always will be, to turn these problems into solutions.
Or, as Jews call it, to practice tikun olam (healing the world).
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