Chassidic philosophy teaches that we live in a world that is olam ha’sheker – a world of falsehood. It is considered false because we never have all the information needed to completely and accurately understand what’s happening around us. We base our lives on assumptions that may or may not be true. We draw distorted conclusions about people and events all the time because we can’t see the entire picture. After working with hundreds of people who have shared their secrets with me in therapy, I have come to the conclusion that nobody is as they appear to be. If we knew absolutely everything that ever happened to a person (from the moment of conception to the present) we would have only deep empathy and compassion for him regardless of who he is and what he has done.
If we don’t stay consciously aware of this basic and consistent lack of information then we can become overly confident and judgmental in our assessments of people. We can forget that the annoying, aggravating, or even hurtful person in front of us was, once upon a time, a tiny baby looking out into her world with hopeful and trusting eyes. We can lose sight of the fact that people generally come by their bad traits honestly and usually did the best they could in difficult situations.
Does this attitude condone bad behavior? Absolutely not! Each of us is ultimately responsible for our own actions. However, it allows us to understand that there are reasons outside our knowledge that may explain why a person is behaving in a particular way. If we truly want to help that person improve, then we first must explore those hidden forces driving the surface level behavior. In fact, we can also extend this thinking to ourselves. Don’t assume that you completely understand why you do what you do. We cannot even claim to have a complete picture of our own lives.
We cannot judge ourselves or others based on the snap shot of the present moment. Our lives are streams that started before we were born and will continue after we die. There are worlds upon worlds that lay outside the borders of the picture that, while not visible to us, impact us greatly. Only G-d can have perfect understanding because only G-d has all the facts. We can move out of our personal worlds of falsehood and into worlds of truth when we remember that our perceptions are limited, and that if we had all the facts, we would feel only compassion – for others as well as ourselves.