Zvi Bellin, Ph.D., Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Rotating Header Image

Meaning Blog:Chutzpah and Meaning

(Photo credit: http://www.pinterest.com/jsdoody/animals-unicorns-and-things-like-that/)

Chutzpah is one of those charming Hebrew/Yiddish slang words that have crossed over boldly (or with chutzpah), and imperfectly, to the English language. It is not pronounced with the ch, like in chocolate, but rather the ch, guttural, throat clearing, phlegm producing way – chutzpah. It is hard to directly translate this word into English, but words that come close are audacity, boldness, gall, “moxi” (from Lost in Yonkers), and shamelessness. Chutzpah is a certain strength of character that one must have in order to assert oneself into a situation. This can be for good, as in the case of Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the segregated bus. Or it can turn towards a harmful extreme, as in cases where people claim ownership of other people, other’s land, other’s faith and ways of being.

There is a way in which a stable sense of meaning requires the right degree of chutzpah. A sense of personal meaning is founded on two words that are broadcast subliminally when we act from a place of meaningfulness. These words are, “I matter.” Depending on how you grew up, and the messages you received (and still receive) from your family and social world, living from a place of “I matter,” can be no easy task. It requires chutzpah to break through the blockades of, “You are not (fill in the blank) enough to matter.”

Asserting your being in this way, with the clear reminder of, “I matter,” is not a one shot deal, like a light switch that you simply flick to illuminate the world with your presence. Rather, living in the realm of, “I matter,” is an ongoing chutzpah practice, a cultivation of what my teachers call Holy Chutzpah.  One way to cultivate Holy Chutzpah is to look for ways to affirm the being of other people. Simple acts of kindness, like a smile to a passing stranger, or more challenging tasks, like acknowledging the suffering of another, are ways in which we say to each other, “You exist and you matter to me.” We have the ability to impact someone else solely because we ourselves are an influencing agent in the world. When we affirm another, we affirm our own existence (such chutzpah!) and solidify our foundation for meaningful living.

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