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September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Reb Yochanan’

A Validating Experience (Part IV)

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

What does it mean to be validated? In what areas of life can one expect to be validated? What attitude, behaviors or actions convey a message (or feeling) to someone that s/he is being validated? How does one validate, or invalidate? What benefits are there to validating and being validated – in the short term as well as long term?

Some of these questions were addressed in the first three parts of this series. We processed the shivah experience of Reb Yochanan ben Zakai upon the death of his son. Why he was consoled by only one of his disciples and not the other four was the focus of a discussion on validating the bereaved. We also viewed Hashem’s validation of Adam’s predicament and needs. Despite Adam’s unsuitable and immature means of “asking” for that which he concluded was a necessity, Hashem ignored his attitude and provided him with a mate.

In this final segment, we will discuss the ins and outs of validation and invalidation, and conclude with a Torah thought that will fine-tune the subject.

Some people believe when they validate someone, they are, in fact, agreeing with or supporting that person’s thoughts and/or behaviors. And while it is possible to come to that logical conclusion, in truth, that assertion is inaccurate. Validation does not mean to agree with someone.

Webster’s dictionary defines validate as to confirm, recognize, or illustrate the worthiness or legitimacy of. Wikipedia adds: to communicate that others’ opinions are acknowledged, respected, heard, and [regardless whether or not the listener actually agrees with the content], they are being treated with genuine respect as a legitimate expression of their feelings rather than [their feelings] being dismissed.

Let’s move to a broader perspective which will also answer some of the above questions. As you read the following verses, note, and consider the diverse ways in which we are invalidated and also validated.

When our feelings are negated and diminished

When our thoughts are judged and rejected

When our decisions are scorned and spurned

When our opinions are shunned and ignored

These are the times when we are being invalidated!

When our predicament is disregarded

When our situation is dismissed

When our position is devalued

When our needs arediscounted

These are the scenarios in which we are being invalidated!

When our mood is unappreciated and overlooked

When our space is imposed upon and invaded

When our privacy is infringed upon and violated

When our boundaries are encroached upon and trespassed

These are the areas where we are being invalidated!

When, as a child, we are distressed over the suffering of a parent,

be it physically

When, as a parent, we are anguished over the misery of a child,

be it emotionally

When, as a spouse, we are besieged by the pain of our soul-mate,

be it mentally

When, as a human being, we grieve over the loss of a loved one

Most certainly, there is a need to be validated!

There is a need for compassion and empathy.

There is a need to be listened to and understood.

There is a need to be accepted ‘as we are.’

There is a need to be comforted and consoled.

There is a need to be nurtured and supported,

To be respected,

To be acknowledged,

To be affirmed.

There is a need to feel and be connected.

There is a need to belong.

“Invalidation goes beyond mere rejection by implying not only that our feelings are disapproved of, but there is something wrong with us because we are not like everyone else; we are strange; we are different; we are weird. None of this feels good, and all of it damages us. When someone tells us, ‘Don’t feel that way,’ it is akin to telling water it should not be wet, or grass, it should not be green. Our feelings are real, whether or not someone likes or understands them. And when someone tries to stop us from feeling the way we do, that individual is being unrealistic as well as controlling.” *

I wonder how many of the following invalidating expressions look familiar and resonate with you. As you think about them, notice the possibility of viewing them as

A Validating Experience (Part II)

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

How does one comfort an individual mourning the loss of a loved one? What does one say so that the grieving person will feel consoled?

In Part One of this series on validation, the above questions were presented. To illustrate the vital points of the mitzvah to comfort the bereaved, we referred to the story in Maseches Avos D’Rabi Noson (14:6). In this segment, we will further explore these questions using some of the details in the story.

When Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai sat shiva for his son, several of his students tried comforting him. Yet, only one accomplished that goal. The first disciple referred to Adam as an illustration of one who had suffered a loss and was consoled. The student concluded, “You also should accept consolation.” Reb Yochanan responded: “Not only do I have my personal suffering, but now you remind me of Adam’s suffering, too.”

The second student presented Iyov (Job), one who had suffered the loss of his entire family in one day, and had also been consoled. The student then added the same concluding comment, as the first student. And in a similar vein, the Rebbe responded as he did earlier.

The third disciple mentioned Aaron and his loss of two sons (both in the same day), indicating that Aaron was consoled. The same concluding statements followed, both by the student and the Rebbe. And finally, the fourth student pointed to King David as one who had suffered a loss and noted that he, too, was consoled. Again, the student concluded with the same statement to his Rebbe as did the disciples before him, as was the Rebbe’s response. It would only be with the fifth student that Reb Yochanan would be consoled.

The question, therefore, begs asking: Why did Reb Yochanan not accept consolation from his four students? Was there something in their content, style of communication, language, attitude, disposition, or perhaps something else that precluded their achieving their goal? And on the other side of the pole, why was RebYochanan comforted by his disciple, Rabbi Elazer ben Aruch? How was his approach or communication different from that of the other students?

Interestingly, there seem to be several common threads present in the scenarios of the first four students. Firstly, theindividuals who had been identified as “also” having gone through their personal experiences of grief – as did Rabbi Yochanan – were four great Torah personalities. Secondly, the responses given by each of the four disciples was that of the same nature: of comparison. Thirdly, the comparisons could be perceived as containing within them a component of judgment – as if to say – “If this great person was able to take comfort during his time of grief, then you, too, should do the same.” Then again, sometimes (and for some people), utilizing comparisons potentially can offer chizuk (inspiration). Referring to a righteous person as a source of inspiration can motivate a person to feasibly achieve that which the great personality has accomplished.

However, when comparisons are used as a paradigm, it is possible that such an approach can negate an individual’s feelings. One can, therefore, wonder If the students were implying how their Rebbe “should” feel, is it possible their words might be invalidating how, in fact, their Rebbe might be feeling?

Enter Rabbi Elazer ben Arech, a student whose words took his Rebbe on a different path. He did not refer to anyone else’s loss; he made no comparisons. Instead, he used an allegory as his style of communication; and it worked (parenthetically, there are instances in both Midrashic and Talmudic stories where allegories are used as a means to convey lessons). He “reached” his Rebbe, something which was not attained by the other disciples.

Based on the responses Reb Yochanan gave, it would appear that he possessed a profound depth of empathy for others who had experienced personal loss. Additionally, being so sensitized to their anguish, it would seem that he also internalized their pain and grief on top of his own. One can only imagine: feeling a double degree of grief certainly would not be conducive for a mourner to receive comfort and consolation.

Reb Elazer had to have understood his Rebbe and that which he required most. He also had to have recognized the values which Reb Yochanan honored and held dear to him. In his case, it was helping him reflect on the true meaning of parenting. As the allegory suggested, Reb Yochanan’s role was to be the keeper, charged with maintaining the precious object lent to him, and returning it to The King undamaged, unsoiled and in a perfect state. To that end, Rabbi Elazer reviewed with his Rebbe that which his son accomplished in his lifetime. As a Torah scholar who had studied all of Torah (the oral as well as written), his son left the world without sin.

One can assume that Reb Yochanan did not require people to sit with him and empathize with him for his loss. Obviously, Reb Yochanan’s greatest consolation came from tuning in to that which he felt in his heart and soul – the fulfillment of his role as a parent.And while we are not on the level of Rabi Yochanan ben Zakai, it behooves those who offer words of consolation, to remember one of the most important aspects of the approach used by Rabi Elazer ben Arech: We are all different and everyone requires something different in order to feel comforted and consoled. Tune in to the needs of the bereaved and be sensitized to their needs before you say anything. If one’s words will not be received as consolation, are they appropriate altogether?

The subject of validation continues in Part Three as we move to a different landscape.

Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching, and is an NLP Master Practitioner. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at lovetoughcoach@aol.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/a-validating-experience-part-ii/2010/01/06/

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