One of the most curious articles written by my teacher’s father, the great 20th century kabbalist Baal HaSulam, is a short piece titled “The Thought Is an Upshot of the Desire.” When I read it for the first time, and the second, it struck a chord deep within me. In just 200 words, Baal HaSulam explained how reality is built, how it operates, what needs to be fixed, and how we can fix it. I was awestruck, and very envious of his wisdom.
The logic in the article is very simple, like all truths. It states that when we want something, we think about it, and after we think about it, we act accordingly. In other words, the world we live in is a result of our desires. Or even more concisely, our desires create our world. If we don’t like the world we live in, there’s a sure way to fix it: We can change our desires, which will change our world.
But can we control our desires? Can we decide to want one thing and not another? Indeed we can, and more easily than we might think. All we need is to make good use of our worst trait: envy.
To put it simply, envy means we want what others have. If we can’t take what others have, then we want to at least have more of it than they do. When I envied Baal HaSulam for his wisdom, it didn’t make me want him not to be wise; it made me want to be as wise as him, if not wiser.
Now here’s the trick to using envy positively: Because we’re envious beings, we want what people value. If we have what they value, they will envy us and not the other way around. In other words, public opinion determines what is enviable. For example, we value wealth. For this reason, we’re envious of wealthy people.
And now think about kindness. Who wants to be kind these days? Practically no one. Why? Because public opinion doesn’t value kindness. When the public doesn’t reward kind people with approval and popularity, people don’t want to be kind. If, on the other hand, the public venerated kindness the way it venerates wealth, people would spend their last cent on acts of kindness in order to “buy” themselves a public image of benevolence.
That insight, that we can control what we want through other people’s opinions, was to me the most striking revelation in Baal HaSulam’s article:. I realized that we don’t need to change ourselves but to change the social values. If we surround ourselves with family, friends, media personnel, education systems, and politicians (I know it’s a long shot) who hail kindness, caring, solidarity, and mutual concern, then we, and everyone around us would become that way as well. It would be effortless, and it would work.
Clearly, we can’t change all of society at once, but we can start. Wherever we can, wherever we are, we can do our little part. And hopefully, little by little, a new and positive mindset will take root. In today’s volatile atmosphere, when the country is on the brink of civil war, I’m sure you will agree that nothing is more required than a change of heart—toward kindness.