Sometimes our sight is blurred by the magnitude of our surroundings. As the old saying goes, “you can’t see the forest for the trees.” Nevertheless, this is very true. Sometimes we don’t see the obvious because of other distractions. In our tefillah, we ask G-d to “enlighten our eyes”. We often miss the treasures that Hashem has given us; we take them for granted.
This time last year, I shared with my readers our simcha of my mother’s 95th birthday. We are very fortunate that we have now celebrated her 96th special day this past week. Baruch Hashem, she is in good health and enjoyed having the family with her for this special day. Her birthday card collection, gifts and flowers continue to grow, as each one of them gives her a unique pleasure.
My mother is fortunate to live with my brother and his family who are superb caregivers. Around the same time as the birthday celebrations, my brother had an eye lens replacement and was continuously amazed at how clearly he could see. In the early 70s there was a hit song by Johnny Nash called “I Can See Clearly Now.” This song came to my mind during our visit to my brother and mother.
Recently, my mother said that someone she has known for most of her life did not seem like the same person. We couldn’t understand her comment and just thought it might be part of the confusion she has been experiencing the past year. However, we found out later that this lady, in fact, has been acting differently and more forgetful. Perhaps we just didn’t see that and yet, my mother did see more clearly than the rest of us. I couldn’t help but think of the relevance and the connection between these two events. Both, my mother and brother were in a position to thank G-d for a tremendous gift, life and sight. Unfortunately, most of us take both of these miracles for granted.
One of the things we learn in Judaism is the importance of giving hakoras hatov (a sincere, deep appreciation) to Hashem (G-d) for all that He provides us – both the obvious and the not so obvious. Everything we have and everything we experience is from Hashem. The rosh kollel where I daven speaks about his grandmother who appreciated good health until a seemingly very minor occurrence affected her daily functioning. One eyelid became paralyzed resulting in her not being able to do many of the normal day-to-day functions that she had grown used to. It’s really amazing! We tend not to think of all our normal bodily functions given to us by Hashem that we take for granted, and as such, don’t thank Him daily for these special gifts.
My brother’s eyesight was made clearer. How about the rest of us? Are we really seeing what’s around us, or only perceiving things through our own lens? Since my visit I am becoming more aware of the mentioning of one’s eyes in our daily prayers. We are told that the eyes are the gateway to the soul. What does this mean? We could say that one’s eyes reflect the character of a person. We tell people to “look into my eyes” when they tell us something, as if we could determine whether or not what they are saying is the truth. Your eyes’ movement and appearance attract constant attention. The eyelids and the surrounding muscles and skin help us to express our emotions and tell the world who we are, and how we feel. As we age, our eyes may begin to look tired or angry.
How do we differentiate between what we “see,” believe and perceive? How many times have we “seen” a situation only to find out later it was our perception but not the same perception others might have had. In my anger management sessions, I teach six steps to manage your anger better. The first step in an altercation is to “Identify the situation.” Is the situation seen the same way by all involved, or do we perceive the situation differently according to our own involvement?
Parents, teachers and children often have conflicts because of miscommunication and perceiving situations differently. These conflicts also occur between friends. What one person may say can easily be misinterpreted by someone else, which in turn leads to altercations and misunderstandings. How do you prevent or minimize such occurrences? Often, differences that seem so big are, in fact, either very small, or a misunderstanding of the essence of what is being talked about. Often, arguments and disagreements originate from how we see (perceive) things as well as from our communication styles, conditioning from past experiences, and personal bias or insecurity.
Here are some ways to minimize misunderstandings and create a better atmosphere for closeness and conversation.
1. Understand your differences. Understand that men and women do communicate differently. I often recommend to couples that they read the old, yet popular book Men are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships by Dr. John Gray. Actually, by reading only the first part of the book you get the message that men and women are, indeed, very different, and you will learn the importance of understanding these differences in order to develop more meaningful relationships. Differences in interpretation or communication styles don’t mean there is right and wrong, but simply that there are differences in one’s patience to understand and accommodate. Once you are aware of these differences, you are on the way to developing more mutual communication patterns.
2. Say what you mean. What is the real message you want to get across to the other person and how is this message being heard? Be aware of your own thought and feelings rather than what might be the other person’s thoughts and feelings. As the saying goes, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.”
3. Listen actively. Effective listeners ask non-blaming, clarifying questions. Listen to what the other person has to say without formulating an argument or opinion. Focus on the words, and ask questions to follow up if you don’t understand the first time around.
4. Eliminate personal bias. Be aware of your own self-doubts and biases before answering others. Be aware of what society expects and analyze how that fits into your own feelings and perceptions. Each of us needs to be aware of our past experiences and how they affect our communication styles and perceptions of events.
5. Assume the best. Often our past experiences cause us to expect the worst in situations. Be aware of this and assume the best. Are our perceptions of a message really the message meant for us? In Tehillim (Psalms) 119.18 King David taught, “Unveil my eyes that I may perceive wonders from your Torah.” May each of us develop the clarity to understand what the other person is saying in order to avoid misperceptions and develop the talent to say what we mean and mean what we say.
Mr. Schild is the Executive Director of Regesh Family and Child Services in Toronto, Ontario Canada. Regesh runs many programs helping families and youth dealing with personal and family issues in their lives. Visit www.regesh.com. He can be reached at 416-495-8832 extension 222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.