The Other Side of the Story
Judging favorably means finding excuses for questionable behavior,
excuses which make sense to us and leave us with a positive feeling towards the person in
question. When we find ourselves suspecting others, we must ask ourselves: Are there any
redeeming factors? Did I miss something? Did I jump to the wrong conclusion? For instance,
take the following four cases...
Comparing is unfair. Every person has his own way of doing things. Families have their own way of doing things, too. One family deems it proper to arrive at an event punctually; in another family, it's accepted to walk in "fashionably late." Your family remembers every birthday and anniversary; your spouse's family lets them slip by. It's only fair to compare people who are exactly alike, with the exact same abilities and circumstances. Of course, no such people exist. For instance, consider the case of the...
We live in Eretz Yisrael, and both my parents and my husband's parents live outside of Israel. My husband's parents visit at least once a year. When they come, they stay for at least a week, and they try to spend every possible minute with us and the kids. They rent an apartment nearby, and my mother-in-law comes over every morning to take the little kids to the park. They're back in the early afternoon so they can be there when the bigger kids come home from school. Or else they call and have the kids come to their apartment for the afternoon, or take them all out shopping, or to the zoo or whatever. And they love it when the kids sleep over at their place, which they do as often as we will allow. And of course, the entire Shabbos we spend together.
My parents visit, but less frequently; and never for more than four or five days. They insist on staying in a hotel downtown, 20 minutes away (if there's no traffic). They like their leisurely mornings, so they show up around noon and they want to take us all out for lunch. It seems that the whole time at the restaurant is spent in the Sisyphusian task of getting the little ones to sit still and be quiet, as is proper restaurant etiquette. Afterwards, my parents just want to go back to their hotel alone and relax. They might stop over later, after the kids are asleep. Instead of a restaurant, they may suggest we all go on some tour or take a drive to another city. Again, it's usually something difficult for the kids, especially the little ones. As for Shabbos, my parents stay in their hotel Friday night. We only see them when they walk over for the daytime meal, if it doesn't rain.
One day, my husband said to me, "Don't your parents like their grandchildren? They never really seem to want just to spend time together with them."
Perhaps the less doting parents are older or have weaker health, which causes them to tire more easily, or to have less stamina for spending time with company. Maybe they are by nature nervous people and don't have the patience to sit around the house and play with the children. Or perhaps there is a hidden issue weighing on their hearts which makes it hard for them to enjoy the simple things in life. Instead of comparing, looking askance at unfamiliar ways and mannerisms, try to understand that people are different.
We sometimes rely on preconceived notions and prejudice when we look at a situation. When the evidence weighs heavily against a person, judging favorably require us to drop old outlooks and open up to fresh ways of thinking. You never know when there might be...
Something New Cooking
The setting: The fully staffed, kosher kitchen of an educational institution. A staff member, Mr. Lewis, in the kitchen on an errand, noticed something wrong. Such a big, efficient kitchen, with only one stove? Surely the kashruth standards would be enhanced with separate stoves for meat and dairy. Mr. Lewis approached the chef, "Uncle Ben," with his idea. "I've run this kitchen since you were in knickers, and we don't need any advice!" replied Uncle Ben. Not a little taken aback, Mr. Lewis persisted. "Nope," said Uncle Ben. "No need for it." So, Mr. Lewis presented his idea to the principal. "We've got no budget for it," said the principal. "But if you feel it's important and would like to donate one, I have no objection." The next day Mr. Lewis bought a stove top and a table to put it on. He set it up in the kitchen. "I've got the principal's approval," he told Uncle Ben. "I hope the stove will prove helpful." When Mr. Lewis later popped in to check on the new arrangement, he couldn't believe his eyes: The table was knocked over and the stove lay on the floor. "The nerve of that Uncle Ben! Knocking over the new stove like that," he thought. Mr. Lewis picked up the table, set it off to the side and put the stove on it. Later he returned, looking for Uncle Ben. Again, the table was knocked over and the stove lay on the floor! "He's wild! Out of control," he thought. "I'd better not approach him. Who knows what he'll do to me?" Mr. Lewis bent to pick up the table, and noticed that the stove top was banged up. "From two good pushes!" said Mr. Lewis with clenched teeth.
Just then, a kitchen worker walked in. "Thanks for the new stove, Mr Lewis. It was a really great idea. Even Uncle Ben liked it when he saw it. We'll need to replace that table, though; it only stands for a short while, and then it buckles under. Must be a defective leg..."
When people betray our high expectations of them, we need to search for explanations which exonerate their behavior. It's a mitzvah, and besides, we'll feel better about others and about ourselves. Want to avoid a lot of needless aggravation? Always remember...
When Something's a Miss, Something's a Foot
Gloom pervaded Chaim's lonely car. He had cut his date short, dropped the young lady off at her house and headed home. He'd heard such wonderful things about the young lady, too. "Such wonderful character traits, such personality, so refined," the matchmaker had said. Chaim had been looking forward to a wonderful evening. Instead, his evening was filled with annoyance and resentment provoked by a very unpleasant smell, an odor that entered the car when she did, which followed them to the cafe, and which lingered in the air even after he dropped her off. What kind of person was this who didn't know enough to shower before a date? What kind of parents did she have? Chaim was angry at everyone, especially at the matchmaker for suggesting he meet such a person. As Chaim walked into his house, he heard his sister call out: "Chaim, the rug! Look what you're tracking in onto the rug!" Chaim looked down. In horror he discovered a piece of refuse stuck to his shoe. He must have acquired it when he first walked his date from her house to his car!
The best way to be convinced of the importance of judging favorably is to be the one suspected. Being in a position where onlookers assume we are doing one thing, while we know we are doing something quite different, teaches us how easy it is to draw wrong conclusions. We learn, hands on, what it means to be...
In The Un-Easy Chair
As co-chairperson of our annual sisterhood luncheon, I worked with a committee of dedicated women who worked far beyond the call of duty. I felt they deserved public recognition, and therefore I cited each one of them when writing my speech for the luncheon.
The big day arrived, and we worked until the last minute to ensure that everything would run smoothly. But a problem with the sound system took almost an hour to fix, throwing us off schedule. To make matters worse, the first speaker spoke 15 minutes over time. I was next. As I gathered my notes, the president approached me saying that the keynote speaker needed to catch a plane. Since we were behind schedule, I could speak for 5 minutes and not more. I became nervous and flustered. Everything I had prepared was important. What could I delete at the last minute? With no time to think, I simply began at the beginning. After 5 minutes I got a wave from the president to finish. I sat down.
At the end of the evening my co-chairperson walked over to me. "I'm surprised at you," she said. "You of all people should know how important it is to thank those who helped. You saw more than anyone how they came through day and night, whenever needed, and at a moment's notice. They turned this evening into a success." When she finally gave me a chance, I explained what had happened. But what I really wanted to say - but didn't - was: "While we're on the topic of 'should have known,' you should have known that I do know the importance of appreciation. I know these people should have been thanked. How could you think I would be so neglectful and unappreciative not to give credit where due? Why didn't you credit me with that understanding?"
When we are misjudged, that's when we begin to really appreciate the value of judging others favorably.
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