Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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29 Adar II 5760 - April 5, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Investing in a Positive Balance
by R. Chadshai

Part II

People often wonder why a simple, routine request on their parts meets up with a reaction that is 'way beyond proportion; it is bitter and sour. The person approached may burst out with a vehemence totally uncalled for...

The answer, according to R. Chadshai, is a long term investment or input in the small things that build up a relationship and which allow for occasional `withdrawal from the account.'

Big Dividends for Small Change

There is no receiving without giving. Good results can only be produced by input that is not necessarily cultivated for the sake of immediate gain but for the sake of creating a positive balance, of filling up the reserves and keeping in the black regarding emotions and good will.

One woman tells: "My family doctor incidentally told me that she was looking for a small apartment to rent in one of the new neighborhoods in order to open up a clinic. I just `happened' to have a niece who had bought an apartment there but was not interested in moving in; she was looking for a tenant. I made the connection as an act of good will. What shall I say? Ever since, the doctor has gone out of her way to cut medical bureaucratic red tape for me in a measure far beyond the small favor I did for her..."

An investment can be a small additional degree of concern and attention, a gesture of caring, even listening, an insignificant act of giving -- whose worth surpasses gold.

"On my way to work I pass by a stationery store. I happened to notice a little sponge that one puts on a pencil to reduce the pressure on one's fingers. A little thing costing mere pennies but a convenient device for whoever needs it. I bought it for my eight-year-old son and was amazed at his joy, which was completely out of proportion to the `gift' itself. I felt I had made his day. He showed it to all his friends and I experienced his heartfelt gratitude in many ways afterwards."

Children remember small gestures, little acts of attention, kind words, even if parents are not aware they produced them. A child will remember an icicle his parents bought him on some outing many months before and bask in their generosity and consideration. He may be more grateful for this inconsequential act than for a piece of new furniture they bought for his room...

There are some investments that don't even cost a cent and are priceless, nonetheless. A hug from father to son when he hears about a thoughtful act he did for a friend, or how he gave in to a sibling, or when he tells a chiddush that struck him. The wonderful feeling this generates can accompany a person to his old age! He will not forget a spontaneous compliment, and the warm words will ring and sing in his mind for decades to come!

This `small change' which produces such a mighty impact can be long ranging and far reaching; it cannot be properly gauged. There is a well known story about a baal tshuva who finally made it to a regular yeshiva but was not accorded any personal attention from his peers. Feeling himself a non-entity, he contemplated the thought of leaving the yeshiva -- and his newfound way of life -- altogether. At the very last moment, however, a passing yeshiva student stopped to straighten out his collar, which was askew. The baal tshuva was so moved by the gesture, a routine act, that he decided to give yeshiva life another try and to stick it out. As we have said, some acts, some investments cannot be measured by their face value, but by the emotional impact they leave, and the blessed results are 'way beyond proportion.

Trust -- An Investment That Pays Off

Expressing trust -- aside from the spectrum of advantages it carries, also has far reaching consequences. Lack of trust leads to suspicion, mistrust, which can make life unbearable.

* To what age will we have to monitor him with regards to prayers? In two years, he'll be bar-mitzva, and he still thinks he's doing us a favor by going to shul to daven...

* Whenever I give her money, it has to be an exact sum, else she'll find some excuse or another to explain what she did with the rest of the change.

* We always make up a time by when she must be back home, but it doesn't seem to make a difference. She has a problem with this. She complains why the mothers of her friends never establish a curfew for them and many don't even bother asking where their daughters are going...

* How can I know if he took a sweater or not? He leaves the house before I get up and when he calls home, I get the feeling that he's hiding the truth...

* How can you send a girl out shopping for a pair of Shabbos shoes, all on her own? First of all, how do I know where she'll end up? And second, I'm afraid to trust her taste. She might pick out something vulgar, in poor taste... Trust and mistrust operate according to the rule of "Like faces are reflected in water, so do hearts reflect one another." The power of cultivation in the area of trust proves itself many times over. Trust generates in the target-person the desire to live up to expectations, not to disappoint, even if he feels the trust is not completely justified. One strives to vindicate the impression. When a mother relies on her child honestly that she will come home on time/ that she will return with the right change/ that she will choose suitable shoes and so on, this evokes the desire in the child to prove her right, to show that the trust was rightly placed.

When truth is the guiding light of a family, parents can trust their children to answer questions honestly even when the truth is not so pleasant, like, "True, I didn't daven maariv in a minyan tonight," or "I admit that I forgot to take a coat today." Even if parents cannot check out every statement for its veracity, it is clear that children will not maintain their obstinacy for long but will soon come 'round and try to become worthy of their parents' trust in them. Trust is not only expressed in expectations, but also in keeping obligations and carrying out promises, a necessary corollary of truthfulness. Our keeping promises, not only towards adults but also to children, does not only entail doing so when we are nagged morning and evening, but even when the latter has forgotten our promise -- but we haven't.

Aside from the clear halachic duty, it is difficult to describe the powerful effect generated and the example set by our keeping promises and carrying out obligations and responsibilities. Very often, the effort is altogether incommensurate to the results or reward.

The Ability to Listen

One of the most marvelous investments in interpersonal relations consists, interestingly, of a most passive role: listening. In our stressful times, people are too impatient to listen. They think they understood the other person even before he finished talking and will interrupt their flow with an urgent rejoinder of their own. Sometimes they must pay a heavy price for this, by having to hear the whole megilla all over again from beginning, only because the other person thought he was misunderstood.

Sometimes an argument will erupt on a bus, in the bank, a supermarket and even on the street. The person on the defensive will refuse to listen, or will choose to argue his point with an innocent bystander, who is willing to hear him out. The man who listens has no idea how the arguer values his attentive ear. The service he is rendering is far dearer than he can imagine, and in no proportion to his inconvenience.

The act of listening signifies to the other person that we are his true friend, and he is prepared to show his gratitude in a big way.

One common mistake is that people think that listening also entails solution finding. Listening, in of itself, is a tremendous service, even if the listener is in no position to help or suggest some way out. In fact, often as not, by using the listener as a sounding board and clarifying the problem, the speaker will find his own solution. At worst, the outpouring will have served as a catharsis. And he will have adopted the other person as his sworn friend.

The ability to listen properly, within the context of the home or in any other social setting or situation, is not only a overt act of kindness, not only a tool in understanding the next person, but also, incidentally, a wonderful investment in a positive balance in relationships, which will allow for a withdrawal when and if the situation arises.

Nevertheless - It is Still Better Not to Cash In On Your Credit

We could continue to enumerate many more non-monetary investments geared to maintain a positive balance, but space prohibits and we will hope that the principle has been made clear. You can continue on with your own personal list.

It is important to note here that in spite of all input, it is not advisable to become `overdrawn' in your relationship account. Always leave a healthy reserve to fall back on in times of need, when you have no other resort. This is not a bank account where a person invests towards a definite goal which he will collect, principle and interest, upon maturity. It is more like investing in an insurance policy, which people hope they will not have to collect...

It is true that a good mother-in-law who creates a positive balance in the heart of her daughter-in-law, can make allowances for a faux pas, can let slip a word that can be misconstrued, and it won't be the end of the world. She can also make an irregular request and expect her daughter-in- law to fulfill it graciously. But in any case, it is always wise to apologize, to explain, and thus sweeten the bitter pill.

It is true that a principal who knows how to keep a warm and human relationship with her staff of workers can expect, in times of emergency, that a teacher will go beyond the call of duty. Nevertheless, she would be wise to couple her request with an honest apology and a show of appreciation, and not take the favor for granted.

All kinds of situations can arise, unforeseen shortcomings, mishaps, irregular behavior, outbursts, misunderstandings, incidents due to bad moods, stress, extenuating circumstances. If a person had cultivated a relationship previously with positive input - not for the sake of withdrawal but for the human value in the kind acts etc. - s/he would find it much easier to deal with it from the negative side, to forgive or be forgiven. Relationships are not there to be taken advantage of. Like with children; we must seek to give, and give, and hope never to need to draw, to have to take from children, despite our tremendous input over the many years...


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