“Why doesn’t anyone listen to me?” asked Shirley, a member of our sisterhood special projects committee. Shirley has been involved for many years with the sisterhood but feels that if things continue down the road that they’re going on, she’ll have had enough. She tells me that she’s fed up with trying to get people to do things and she thinks it’s time to call it a day. “If they would only listen to my critiques, they might start doing things right!” Why is nobody paying much attention to Shirley and why will she eventually get burned out of communal volunteer work?
A double-decker sukkah is not valid unless the space between the top storey and the bottom storey is minimal? How small is minimal? Rav Huna says a handsbreadth. Rav Chisda and Rabbah bar Rav Huna say four handsbreadths. Shmuel says ten. Why? Ten tefachim (handsbreadths) is the minimum height required to build a valid sukkah. Explains Shmuel: If that’s the amount required to validate a sukkah, it should likewise be the amount to invalidate a sukkah.
Some people invalidate others over trivial matters – they are swift to pass judgment and look upon others unfavourably. Strangely, when it comes to giving people the benefit of the doubt – validating them – they are suddenly reticent. They find all sorts of excuses to assume the worst in people. Shmuel explains that this double-standard is unacceptable. According to Shmuel, we must validate people at least to the extent that we’re prepared to invalidate them!
In fact, our degree to which we view others favourably should be much greater than the degree to which we judge them unfavourably. We must ALWAYS give people the benefit of the doubt. When it comes to criticizing, our words fall on deaf ears unless we are known to be quick to praise, commend, and thank people for their positive behaviour and actions.
The need to be overwhelmingly positive applies throughout our lives – the way to talk to our kids, our spouses, our friends, our colleagues. We should always look for nice things to say, to validate others, to make them feel great. Only then do have we earned the right to criticize on a very rare occasion when absolutely necessary.
Every kind word is a mitzvah. Let’s capitalize on the opportunities to build people up!