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Friday, 31 January 2014

Dealing with Difficult People

Yoma 84

Should I reach out to difficult people or distance myself from them?

If one was bitten by a mad dog, Rabbi Masya ben Charash permits the consumption of non-kosher food to cure the patient.  How do you define a mad dog?  The Talmud explains:  Its mouth is open, its saliva drips, its ears flap, its tail hangs between its thighs and it walks on the edge of the road.  Some say also that it barks without its voice being heard.

 Where do mad dogs come from?   According to Rav, they are created from witchcraft.  According to Shmuel, the dog is possessed of a bad spirit.  What’s the difference between these two opinions?   According to Shmuel’s opinion, one should avoid coming anywhere near the dog, because the bad spirit is dangerous and one may become contaminated.

Sometimes we encounter people that are difficult.  They may be new acquaintances or people we’ve known our entire lives.  And we wonder, do I really need them in my life or are they just bringing negativity into the atmosphere?  Is it okay to distance myself from negative people?

It depends.  Why are they negative?  Is it because, like Rav suggests, they have been messed up by external influences?  Maybe they’ve had a terrible upbringing.  Maybe they’ve had unfortunate occurrences in their lives.    Such people aren’t dangerous.  The right approach is to reach out to them and be there to help them through life.

Other people, however says Shmuel, are simply possessed of a mean-spirit.  They are constantly critical, negative, cynical.  And they’ve chosen to be that way.  Such people, says the Talmud, one should distance oneself from.  They’re only going to weigh you down.  They’re going to bring negativity into your life.  It doesn’t mean you should be mean to them, we must be nice and kindhearted to everyone.  But they needn’t be in the inner circle. 


When it comes to difficult people, we need to determine why they are negative.  Is it because they’ve had bad experiences in life?  Or is it because they are mean-spirited and choose to be bastions of negativity?  Such people should be avoided, as they pose a danger to the positivity and joy with which we choose to live our lives.