On Superstars, Yuppies, Family Men and Chasids by Dr. Sanford Drob
Volume 1 , Issue 4 (June, 1988 | Tammuz, 5748)
A friend of mine, a Baal Teshuva of many years who has embraced the chasidic way of life, recently remarked half jokingly that he aspired to be a Chuppie, a word that is an amalgam of the terms chasid and Yuppie and which expressed his desire to be both spiritually elevated and financially and materially secure. While my friend may have been joking about himself I have come to see that the caricature evoked by the term Chuppie, however unpleasant, applies very well to myself' and many of my fellow Orthodox Jews. Only in our case, while to be a chasid refers to our desire for spiritual elevation, the term yuppie means more than simple financial and material security. Rather yuppie embraces a whole set of values, largely rooted in American culture, which define the nature of personal success, how one ought to spend his time and money, and perhaps most importantly, what constitutes enjoyment or ?fun?.
For many individuals the discovery of two distinct sets of values, of two radically different self-images within the self is, to say the least, quite distressing. The two, it seems, are mutually contradictory and when looked at from the perspective of traditional Judaism, seem to reflect the conflict between an individual's Yetzer Hatov (the good desire) and the Yetzer Hara (the bad desire). On the one hand the individual desires to be a pious, God fearing Jew, steeped in Torah, practicing acts of loving-kindness towards others, and generally nullifying his self or ?ego? in the greater cause of family, the Jewish people, and tikkun olarn, the repair of the world. On the other hand, the individual may be equally taken, for example, by the game of tennis or golf, decorating his apartment, shopping for a new sports car, and (when the stock market was still good) counting his profits on his investments. At times he is able to reconcile these two self-images, but most of the time, he keeps them a fair distance apart, rationalizing, if he even thinks about it at ail, that there are just two sides to his personality, twosides to his soul. It is only during times of cheshbon nefesh (introspection or soul-searching) that the two self-images are experienced as conflicting, pulling the individual in seemingly opposite directions. It was during one such period that myself became determined to better understand the psychology of this conflict which so many of us experience, and to work towards its resolution.
Labeling the Personas
I soon realized that simply labeling one side of the conflict Hatov ?the good? and the other
I call these personas, for lack of any better terms, the ?superstar,? the ?yuppie,? the ?family man? (or woman), and the ?chasid.? As I have said, many of us, if not each of us, has an element of each of these personas within us, but I will speak of them here as if they were pure types.
The ?superstar? is oriented towards fame, honor, power and success. He is driven, for example, to become the president of his company, a name partner in his law firm, a famous writer or film star. He loves wealth for the sake of the power it gives him and success for the kavod or honor which is bestowed upon him by others. His narcissism knows no hounds. He (or she) is not only meticulous about his appearance but feels that he must be the most attractive, the most personable, smartest, most with it person on the scene. It is important to him that people speak of him in only the most glowing of terms and regard him as everything a person should be and more.
The ?yuppie? is oriented towards material things and fun. He desires
money for the things it can buy him: the summer home, the sports car, the
golf-club membership, the ski vacation in
?The family man and woman? are devoted to their children, to each other, their parents and to their extended family. They are striving to build a home in which their children are emotionally secure, well educated and well adjusted. He prides himself on being a good father and has his greatest pleasure in the time he spends with his children. She is completely absorbed in the well being of her children and spends countless hours speaking with other mothers about the ?culture? of parenthood. They are deeply moved by the nachat which their parents take in the grandchildren and are at their best when the entire family is together for simchas and other occasions.
Godliness on Earth
The ?chasid,? as Iam using the term here, is devoted to transcending him or herself. Through meditation and davening (prayer), mitzvot and gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness) the ?chasid? strives to refine him (or herself) and bitul (nullify) himself so as to bring himself completely into the service of his fellow man and God. To the extent that the chasid is successful in achieving this, everything he or she does emanates from Torah. The goal of the ?chasid? is to become an ex- pression of Godliness on earth.
How do these four personas operate within the individual? First, we should note that while each of these personas or ?value- structures? may operate to a greater or lesser degree within all or most of us, each of the individuals we meet in our daily lives can be characterized as generally operating on one, or perhaps two of these ?levels?. We often, for example, encounter narcissistic individuals who are apparently all ?superstar? or perhaps ?superstar? with an a mixture of ?yuppie? values or ?yuppies? with a mixture of ?family? values. When an individual's dominant personas are closely related to one another, as in the examples just alluded to, we may not like the person or what he or she stands for, but the individual experiences him or herself as relatively consistent. However, when an individual is dominated by two personas which are distant and incompatible the result is a form of intrapsychic conflict. For example, the person who is at once trying to be a superstar and a family man or a yuppie and a chasid is certainly quite conflicted. More serious is the conflict which occurs in the individual who attempts to be both a ?superstar? and a ?Chasid?, though occasionally such individuals manage to fool both themselves and a segment of the population and insinuate themselves as ?spiritual masters? or as the leaders of cults.
Elevating Kavod and Sitncha
From a Jewish point of view it should be obvious that it is the ?family man? and ?Chasid? personas within us which our tradition asks us to cultivate. Yet Judaism clearly recognizes the existence of these other values and their hold on many individual's lives. Kavod (honor) and simcha (joy) certainly have their place in the Jew's world, especially if they are elevated to serve the purposes of a higher persona, a higher level, closer to God.
An individual's struggle to deal with the personas or seemingly conflicting values within him can, I believe, be aided by the realization that there is indeed a continuum of these four systems of value within him and that a person can work on elevating his or her actions one level at a time. Each level, I should point out involves a progressive distancing from or transcendence of the self. Thus, while the ?superstar? is completely self-centered, the ?yuppie? is at least invested in things (or culture), which exist outside the self. The ?family person? places his children and family above the self, while the ?Chasid? has truly transcended his ego and is invested only in kind acts and Godliness.
Let's examine one example of what I mean by ?elevating actions one level at a time.? An individual may find that he cannot transform his material, aesthetic pleasure in his house into a vehicle for chasiduth, but he may discover that he can invest some of that pleasure in the thought and goal of creating a Jewish home for his family. Similarly, a father or mother's love of tennis can become an activity to be shared with, and hence a vehicle to become closer to his or her son or daughter. On another level an individual's desire for kavod (?superstar?) can be sublimated in teaching a class or in writing a book that would, hopefully, be helpful to others.
An individual cannot ask himself to simply abandon his self-oriented activities, pleasures and desires. To do so, as the Freudians have pointed out, would create a violent and often destructive protest on the part of the inner self, which is by no means ready to abandon such pursuits. Individuals can often transform themselves one step at a time. The man who is obsessed with power and achievement has made a major accomplishment if he can get outside his own ego enough to truly enjoy his possessions or have ?fun? on a vacation. The personas, of which I speak, are best understood as developmental levels, phases which must be passed through in order to achieve the others.
Each of these personas has its place and time in the life history of the individual. Judaism does not generally teach us to suppress them or act as if we do not have the needs and values which they represent, but rather to work towards elevating each of the interests and activities which we have pursued in the course of our lifetime in the service of God and our fellow man.
Sandy Drob holds doctorates in philosophy and clinical psychology.