Mussar defines equanimity as rising above events, both good and bad, that have the power to disturb our inner peace. But is inner peace always the most important thing?
It’s hard to avoid listening in on the current presidential race, and one of the frequent criticisms of any given candidate is that they aren't passionate enough, that they have to show that they really care about the voters and the problems they face. Voters want the candidate to be on the right side of the issues, but they also want them to be excited—and exciting—about these issues. Is that sort of passion compatible with equanimity?
I’ll suggest three differences between equanimity and complacency that might help our practice of this middah:
- Complacency depends on ignoring the issues; equanimity arises out of full awareness of the issues.
- Complacency helps us avoid the unpleasant neighborhoods of life; equanimity applies when we’re in the middle of the bad neighborhoods, trying to do some good.
- Complacency is a purely human response, produced by our natural inclination to maintain the status quo; equanimity is the fruit of a deep connection with Hashem and His word.
The Shema instructs us to teach the words of Hashem diligently to our children, and talk about them when we sit in our house, when we walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise up (Deut. 6:7). That’s hardly a complacent attitude toward Scripture, but it is an attitude of equanimity. No matter what our outward circumstances, we maintain a focus on the divine instruction. We don’t drift to the right or the left, but we’re intent on following Hashem and His word wherever we go. Binding God’s word upon our hands and foreheads—that is, continually remembering and acting on Scripture—yields an inner peace that keeps us above life’s inevitable reversals. This inner peace is not an end in itself, but is the platform for addressing life’s challenges more effectively. That’s the secret of true equanimity, which is the opposite of complacency.