Some years ago, a couple came to meet with me. They sat down and introduced themselves. I asked them what they would like to talk about. The husband smiled and said, “I am a baal kaas [an angry person].” His wife nodded.
I asked, “What makes you think so?”
He gave me an example. He said that when he is behind a car at a red light, when the light turns green he blows his horn loud and long if the car in front doesn’t move soon enough.
I said, “You are not a baal kaas; you are a baal gaivah [an arrogant person].” He stopped smiling.
I think your behavior when you are behind a car when the light turns green and the car in front of you sits there is a litmus test of gaivah. If you beep your horn, you are not a baal gaivah. If you blow your horn, you are a baal gaivah.
Every sound we make conveys something about us, especially when there are no words.
One of the elements most widely recognized as part of Fritz Perls’ Gestalt Therapy involves giving a voice to physical gestures, postures, and voice tones. The client may not even realize that she is doing something prior to giving it a voice. She may be pounding her fist into an open hand as she speaks.
“Give your fist a voice,” the therapist suggests. “What does it say?”
Or tears run down her cheek: “Let your tears speak. What do they say?”
Someone is clenching his jaws as he speaks: “Tighten your jaws still more and squeeze your words through them.” In this case we see a polarity between the attempt to speak and the attempt to stop speaking. “Now be your jaws and tell the voice inside you why it had better not come out. . . . Now be that voice and speak to the jaws that are holding you back.”
Almost every gesture and sound has a meaning that can be articulated. Infants can move and gesture, laugh and cry, before they can speak. Our paralanguage that consists of posture, movements, gestures, and voice tones carries messages that we often mask because of our fear or our adherence to social conventions. Noticing these and giving them an appropriate voice can be one of the most direct transitions from a mistaken conception of what is occurring into an authentic experience of what is actually occurring, whether inside us or in the situation outside us. (From: http://www.sonoma.edu/users/d/daniels/)
Let’s ask a couple of drivers to give a voice to the sound they make with their car horns to discover what attitudes and thoughts are trying to convey.
Me: When the car in front of you didn’t move after the light changed, you beeped your horn twice, beep-beep. What were you saying to the driver in front of you? What was your tone of voice? What were you thinking?
Beeper: I wanted him to know that the light had changed. I guess he was daydreaming so I was kind of saying “Hi, the light’s green.”
Me: When the car in front of you didn’t move after the light changed, you blew your horn once, for a full five seconds. What were you saying to the driver in front of you? What was your tone of voice? What were you thinking?
Blower: I wanted him to get out of my way! I was trying to get somewhere and he was blocking me. I wanted him to know that I shouldn’t have to sit there because he can’t pay attention to what he’s doing. I was thinking that some people actually have things they need to do. People like him shouldn’t be slowing them down!
Who was the beeper thinking about, what was he trying to accomplish?
He was trying to help the driver in front of him. He wanted the driver to know that it was time to proceed because the light had changed. This is a way of helping someone to do better by giving them information that would be useful to them. The words conveyed by the beeper were, Hi! I just want to let you know that the light is green. It’s all good.
Who was the blower thinking about, what was he trying to accomplish?
He was trying to help himself. He wanted the driver to know that he was in the way and had no business being there.
The words conveyed by the blower were, I need to get somewhere and you are in my way. How can you have the gall to slow me down because you can’t pay attention to what is going on! What is wrong with you?? MOVE!!
Yes, the blower is behaving angrily. The anger is the result of his being a baal gaivah.
Gaivah speaks to the one infested with it. It tells them that they the right to have their way all the time with no one getting in their way. When they don’t immediately get what they are so sure they deserve, they become angry and behave angrily. That angry behavior is harmful to everyone who bears the brunt of it. What they don’t realize is that the gaivah infestation is gradually destroying them.
Do you think I am being overly dramatic? I’m just quoting Rabeinu Yonah. Ha’gaivah hi min ha’aveiros ha’chamuros ha-m’avdos u’machlos hanefesh. (Shaarei Teshuva, Shaar 3, paragraph 34)
When your child does something that “gets in your way,” do you beep your parental horn or do you blow it? I understand that he did something that got in your way, literally or figuratively. He got in your way of getting something done or he got in your way of being a successful parent. That certainly happens sometimes in the lives of parents and children.
How you respond to those situations makes a serious difference for both your child and you. Make sure you aren’t, chas v’shalom, infested with gaivah and don’t model it for your child. Your work at cultivating humility will be a source of yishuv hadaas, menuchas hanefesh, and nachas for you and all of your family.
Rabbi Ackerman is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time
Available at bookstores and on Amazon
He can be reached at 718-344-6575