Latest update: August 15th, 2013
3. I Accept That G-d May Bring Difficult People Into My Life To Help Me Grow In A Spiritual Direction.
If we are going through a difficult challenge and meet a compassionate stranger who helps us, it is easy to be grateful that G-d brought this person into our life. It’s much harder to thank G-d for the person who makes our life more stressful. However, this person may be an unwitting messenger to help us recognize a part of our character that needs to be addressed.
If I’m struggling to become more patient, perhaps the handyman I hired to fix a few things in my house will take a disproportionately long time to complete the job. If I resist giving charity, I may find myself swindled by an acquaintance who convinces me to invest in a scam. If I judge others harshly, I may find myself castigated by a friend who misinterprets an action I took.
Of course, this does not mean these people are unaccountable for their behavior. No one can excuse his or her negative actions by saying it’s ultimately for someone else’s character development. But at the same time, we can still search for a deeper meaning in the way others act towards us. While we still need to respond to inappropriate behavior from others, our internal anger can be tempered by an awareness of the bigger picture. As Rabbi Tzvi Freeman writes in his book Bringing Heaven Down To Earth:
”Know that all that befalls you comes from a single Source…. And although this person who insulted you, or hurt you, or damaged your property–he is granted free choice and is culpable for his decision to do wrong—(T)hat is HIS problem. That it had to happen to YOU—that is between you and the One Above.”
4. I Examine My Motives When Disagreeing With Another And Am Willing To Receive Guidance To Gain A More Objective Perspective.
Sometimes when there is a disagreement about money, one or both of the parties will declare, “It’s not about the money. It’s about the principle of the matter.” But a neutral person viewing the dispute may think otherwise. The reality is that when our interests are at stake, our mind will consciously or unconsciously seek out arguments that support what we really want.
For example, I want you to invest in my business venture, so your reservations about the economy seem overstated. I am upset about an argument with a friend, so your comments about his positive characteristics are dismissed. I hate to get up early, so my co-worker who suggests an 8:00 a.m. meeting is met with my reasons why it would be better to meet at 11:00 a.m. instead.
The Torah declares that a judge is prohibited from taking a bribe. Fair enough, but what if one takes the money with the intent of judging the case simply on its merits? The bribe is still forbidden because its affect can be so powerful, it can sway a person’s judgment no matter what his or her stated intentions.
So what can two people in an argument do when their own internal “bribes” have been part of their lives for years? At the least, they can seek the opinion of objective outsiders who can see the matter more clearly. Even if the other party doesn’t want to, we can seek out such advice on our own and clarify how our personal bias is affecting our judgment. We can also spend a greater amount of time and introspection determining our true motivations.
5. I Will Treat Myself With Respect And Compassion.
Much of the emotional baggage that exacerbates conflict comes not from the other person, but from within ourselves. To become happier and more secure people, we need to become more adept at changing the unhealthy way of communicating. This process begins by treating ourselves with a spirit of respect and compassion.
For example, if we come at an adversary with a barrage of angry and sarcastic remarks, it could be because our own ego is too fragile to accept we might have made a mistake. We may have a relentless inner critic just waiting to say that we are too stupid, naïve, lazy or some other negative thought triggered by the argument. Our defensive response may very well be a way of staving off that internal critic rather than an attack on the other person.
About the Author: Gary Tolchinsky works at a consulting firm in New Jersey. He is a graduate of Columbia Law School, where he studied mediation and alternative dispute resolution. He is on the Advisory Board of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry and is founder of the website jewishbooksforpeace.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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