My father, may he live and be well, got an infection which landed us in the ER recently. It was the day after a legal holiday…and anyone working in an Emergency Room can tell you its one of the days you don’t want to be there. That is because folks, even if they are not feeling well, will not head to a hospital during a vacation day. They postpone running with their emergency until the next day, which leads to congested hospitals and often medical issues get complicated by a delay in timely medical intervention.
That was why it was like a three-ring-circus that day. Patients lining the hallways, some patients sitting in chairs as all beds were full. Three beds away from my father they placed a psych patient who was completely out of control. At one point, despite the best efforts of the aid assigned to her, the patient took a sheet off her bed and wrapped it around her neck. The nurse from across the room spotted it and ran over, screaming as she did, “Are you out of your mind?!”
“Duh, yeah!” I wanted to say, but politely held my tongue.
Observer status, it gives you insight that those in the midst of turmoil might not see. You sit on the sidelines and see those little details no one else is noticing.
In Judaism we have something called “negiyus”, where a person has a subjective view of things. For example, a judge cannot be on a tribunal if the person in front of him once did him a favor. The favor clouds the objectivity. The judge is no longer on the sidelines, but somewhere in the midst of things.
In the Mussar movement, there was a buddy system – one partner would honestly tell his peer what character flaws needed working out. You would think that a person knows himself best, for that is what many people espouse as a view. However, you can never know yourself best, for you are not on the sidelines seeing the details. You have “negiyas” subjective views and judgments. Hence, the importance of a really good friend who tells it to you like it is – the unvarnished truth from the sidelines.
Ever do those convoluted corn mazes? A person sitting high on a tower looking down into the maze sees where you are and where you have to go, whereas you, lost in the maze, cannot see, blocked by the barriers down on the ground. A good rabbi would be like the person high on the tower, able to look into the maze of your life and give you instructions how to make it out.
In the absence of a rabbi and a Mussar-buddy, you can try (it won’t be like the real thing) to take yourself out of the situation. Ask yourself, ‘if I would be someone else coming to me for advice, what would be my sum-up of the situation?’
Ultimately, though, it would be best to find a buddy and a rav who can see all those small details you might be missing in the flurry of living and struggling.