“Why are you doing this?” his companions said to him.
“What concern is it of yours?” replied the man. “Am I not drilling under my own place?”
And they replied to him: “But you will flood the boat for us all!” (Quoted in Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 4:6).
This is a teaching from Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar – the primary text of the Kabbalah. And it’s a great example of Jewish mysticism: profoundly deeply, completely practical.
But just based on the story, you would probably say it’s simple and obvious. Everybody knows that if you are miles away from the shore, surround by deep and dangerous waters on all sides, it’s very clear that drilling a hole under my seat will impact my travel partners in the boat – big time.
Yet somehow the message struggles to be heard in day to day life, and the story’s parallel in daily life with family members, friends, co-workers, fellow group goers and teammates is complicated, unclear, and often hidden. Nevertheless, it’s there and has an impact like sinking a boat.
What we often fail to recognize is that in many ways we are all like the man with the drill, doing or not doing something in our own lives or to ourselves that greatly impacts others. Yet we are shocked to discover that in truth we can have a near deadly impact on others.
The reason is because things and people do not exist in isolation of each other, they are an interdependent system, impacting and being impact by each other. For example, one irritated family member, depressed parent, or drug addicted teen can send the family spinning, twist and warp its interactions, foil all attempt to right the course, and flood the scene with smoke screen and chaos.
We are also like the other men on the boat, because for every addiction there is a surrounding cast of characters locked into a dance which is the sum total of their behaviors: the addict acts selfishly, ignoring the consequences of their actions and blaming everything on those around them; the enablers shield the addict from the consequence they should be getting (lost job, lost home, destroyed relationships, etc.). It’s like one guy starts drilling underneath his seat and everyone joins in to make the hole bigger.
Really they should throw him off the boat until he’s ready to behave appropriately.
Simply realizing that your family, co-workers, sports team are in a boat at sea together and each of your individual behaviors affects not only you but the group as a whole, is already a step toward health – you will take responsibility for yourself. In addition, you’ll be better prepared to deal with the hole drillers in your life, being careful not to assist them, and ready to toss them overboard until they get it.