July 22, 2012

Enough with the Jewish Angst

Last night I went to see Woody Allen's latest film To Rome with Love and was overcome with the feeling of "same old, same old". The Jewish angst, played out by Allen and every one of his characters, did not have a Jewish theme in the film, but it certainly had the familiar overtones of overworked anxiety.

Earlier in the day, I had been reflecting on how my language and behavior, sometimes, can convey victimhood or less-than-ness. This is not my intention but can be my Modus operandi. What I really want to convey is, "hey, I'm a cool chick with lots to offer the world" but instead I can come across as, "hey, I'm a cool chick, I have a lot to offer the world, please enable me." Oy. 

I think that this angst-approach to life seems safe. You can't hurt me if I'm already down. But, really, it causes the other person or people anxiety. How should I interact with this person? Why do I feel so strangely powerful around them? Why am I having these thoughts? At least that is what I imagine the other person wondering, if they wonder at all. Anxiety making to say the least.

In his May 26, 2012 New York Times Opinionator piece, Do Jews Own Anxiety, Daniel Smith writes that the conflicting message of Jew as anxious victim and Jew as intellectual hero is a way of claiming mental power.

"Because if anxiety is rooted in excessive intellectual activity, then it is also rooted, by association, in excessive intelligence. When a Jew says he’s a member of the most neurotic tribe in existence, it’s a backhanded way of saying he’s a member of the smartest tribe in existence, the tribe of Spinoza and Marx and Freud and Einstein — and Roth and Allen. It’s a way of claiming mental power (Smith)."

But he concludes, and I agree, "There’s a whole history of claiming that anxiety, for all the pain it causes, is a sign that the person who struggles with it exists in a higher state of being than those who don’t — that they are more alive to life’s contradictions, more receptive to the true nature of things, that they have sharper vision, more sensitive skin. That they are more conscious than other people (Smith)."

I believe that anxiety is painful and damaging, to oneself and others. It is an agitated state of mind that then causes physical agitation. Watching Allen's latest film, you see it play out on screen. Each character hurts another by over-analyzing and then manipulating through underhanded power. The role Alec Bladwin plays is that of the Greek Chorus where he is both in and not in the scene, speaking as the reality-based conscience translating mixed message and predicting disaster. "Another lie!" he says as one character seduces another through her intelligence and anxiety.

Smith concludes his article with, "And I am here to tell you: this is a really dangerous position to accept (Smith)." Why dangerous? Because it perpetuates stereotypes, causes personal and communal anxiety, and is a backhanded way of getting what you want.

How about living simply and in the moment? What if you could be present and experience what is around you and not try to warp reality through a lens of anxiety? This would lead to clearer communications and offering loving-kindness for yourself and others.