We are here to improve our relationships with others
in order to transform the Jewish people in these urgent times.
What’s Really Important in Your Life?
We are all prone to have conflicts of interest with others. Even the youngest of children will quarrel over toys, over the largest portion of ice cream, over who gets to sit where. Even though the young children might quarrel passionately, adults look at these quarrels and view them as trivial and petty.
The most important questions each of us needs to answer are, “What are you living for? What is the purpose of your life?” And, this brings us to the question, “What’s really important in your life?” From this viewpoint, most quarrels are over trivial matters. From a mature, eternal perspective, the quarrels of many adults are not that far from the quarrels of two young children over a small toy.
When you are aware of what is really important in your life, you will be much calmer when you discuss and negotiate conflicts of interest. Trivial matters will be seen as trivial. Solutions still need to be found, but you will find it easier to maintain your composure. Your peaceful patterns will influence the other person to be more peaceful also.
When we look back at arguments and quarrels fought a number of years ago, we see them much differently than we did when we first experienced them. In hindsight, we have a greater sense of perspective. The more life experience we have, the greater our awareness of the loss and harm of quarrels and the benefit of peaceful interactions.
So before getting involved in a quarrel, ask yourself: “Compared to my ultimate purpose in life, how important is this? From the perspective of eternity, is it worth spending my time now on this quarrel? How can I refine my character while I search for a mutually acceptable solution? Will I regret that I did not quarrel now when I eventually look back at my entire life?”
(Reproduced from "Harmony" by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, with permission of the copyright holders,
ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Story: (based on a true story)
It felt like a cliché, like hundreds of stories had been written about it and thousands of school children were taught about it as a basic lesson. And yet here it was, making me feel petty but indignant. I was upset by where I had been seated at a bar mitzva meal.
It was for my son’s oldest boy, a wonderful young man who had done a beautiful job in shul and with the speech he had just completed. I turned in my seat to congratulate my son and daughter-in-law, but I was reminded that they weren’t at my table. They were sitting with my daughter-in-law’s parents, who together with my son and his immediate family, filled out all eight seats.
I know. It’s ridiculous to be upset, and I should focus on the simcha of the day and on my grandson and on all my daughter-in-law does for him, my son, and their other children. But logic like this always reminds me of my parents telling a young me to eat the peas I hated because there were starving children in China. I still had a problem--I hated peas. And yes, the simcha was beautiful, and I was not about to ruin it by saying anything to my son or daughter-in-law, but I still felt it in my heart. My in-laws were seated with my son’s family, as they had also been the night before, and we were again, seated at a different table.
I smiled. I hugged people and accepted congratulations. And, later that afternoon I unloaded to my husband about how slighted I felt to be sat apart in favor of the in-laws twice on the same Shabbos. He didn’t want to hear it. “I’m not thrilled either, but they must have had a good reason, and that’s that,” he said, leaving me to stew on my own. I could think of several reasons. My in-laws lived in a different town, so we saw the kids much more often. My daughter-in-law’s father got offended very easily and let it be known, so she may have been trying to avoid conflict. But none of them were a good enough reason to put us off to the side for every meal without even addressing the issue. Kibbud av va’eim required that we be shown respect as well.
I let myself stew for an hour. I’m human, and allowed to be upset. Then I picked myself up, and in my best mental voice I told myself, “You were right the first time; don’t let this ruin the simcha. You will have to change your thoughts or you will ruin your mood, which will ruin things for you and possibly others, because it’s hard to hide such an angry face. And, you don’t actually want to hate your daughter-in-law, do you?” So I walked myself out of my home and over to my son’s house and offered to watch the younger kids so my daughter-in-law could rest or spend some quiet time with her mother. Change your actions, change your thoughts, right? I got a large genuine smile in return, and found myself returning it.
Many months later, I did find out the reasons. They were understandable ones, not too far from my guesses. It still didn’t seem like quite enough, though the apology that came along with the explanations helped. But I resolved that it wouldn’t matter. People can sometimes only see the problem directly in front of them, solve it, and miss the negative effects that the solution may have on others who seem less involved. It's human nature, and not done out of lack of caring. And, as long as I remind myself to see it as such, I will not feel slighted, and can continue to care for the people in my life, oversights and all.
How can we maintain perspective about which conflicts are more trivial and which are more significant? Is our level of hurt a helpful indicator?
How can we decide whether to try to solve a problem or whether to let it go?
What strategies can we use to maintain respect and perspective while we negotiate a conflict?
Stretch of the Week:
Identify something that bothers you, and think about it in relation to your larger goals. Then decide how to handle it.