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  Harmony with Others

by Zelig Pliskin

Published by Shaar Press
Distributed by Mesorah Publications
copyright 2002


Peace and Pursue Peace


Love peace and pursue peace" (Pirkei Avos 1:11).

When you love someone or something, the object of your love is a high priority for you. In the Torah we read how Jacob was willing to work seven full years in order to marry Rachel whom he loved. The Torah tells us that these seven years were considered as just a few days in his eyes. Imagine loving peace to the same extent.

When you've integrated a love of peace, you will be willing to put in much energy and effort to attain it. You might have to make sacrifices, which come in many forms. When love is a motivating factor, you are more likely to make the necessary sacrifices.

"Pursue peace." You might have to take the initiative to approach people to make peace. Peace is likely to run away, as it were. How far are you willing to go for the sake of peace? The degree is likely to be commensurate with your love of peace.

There are always multiple perspectives to any situation. There are many ways to view what people say and do. A perspective of judging favorably is conducive to peace. And a love of peace frame will motivate you to prevent and resolve quarrels even in challenging situations.

How do you build up a love of peace? The same way you build up positive feelings towards another person: You focus on virtues. The more virtues you see in someone, the more positively you will feel towards him. Reflect on the benefits and virtues of peace.

A question to keep in mind is: "If I had an intense love of peace, what would I be willing to say and do?"

"I've always felt that peace was important, and I was careful not to say negative things to others. But if someone hurt my feelings, I would keep a distance from that person, and would avoid doing any favors for him," someone shared with me when I told him that I was writing a book about peace.

If you would sincerely love and pursue peace, in what ways would you act differently than you are now?" I asked him. "I have to think about it," he replied.

"Great! Thinking about ideas is exactly what we need to internalize the essence of the ideas."

A week later he told me that he realized that he liked peace, but didn't really love it. He was motivated now to upgrade his like to love, and he had taken some constructive action in that direction.

What is Peace? What is Lack of Peace?

PEACE HAS MANY LEVELS AND MANY DEFINITIONS. WHAT would be considered peace in certain situations might be considered lack of peace in other situations. And what would be considered lack of peace for certain people, might be considered peace for others.

On one level, peace is when two people or two sides interact together with a total sense of harmony and unity. At the opposite side, peace might be when two people or parties who were actively engaged in hostile and aggressive interactions now treat each other civilly and politely. They wouldn't want to spend an excessive amount of time together, but they are at peace in light of their previous relationship.

There could be situations when one person would say, "We now have peace," but the other would say, "We are far from real peace." If both are open to understanding the other's thoughts on the matter, they might be able to improve the situation.

People who get into bitter quarrels and feuds might attain a level of peace by minimizing their time together, and by avoiding the types of discussions that are just a source of distress.

On the other hand, there are people who could improve their relationship by discussing their disagreements. At first the intense emotions on both sides might seem like an all-out verbal battle. But by expressing themselves and listening to what the other has to say, they will be able to settle their dispute. For them, their heated discussion is a step forward towards peace.

Someone who viewed peace as people interacting harmoniously and smoothly spent a week with a family that argued a lot. To this person's surprise, one of the family members happened to mention that their family gets along remarkably well. He was about to argue and say, "You argue way too much." He caught himself and realized that although he felt there was too much stress in this family, they were so used to expressing themselves emphatically that they didn't consider their arguments to be quarrels. What would have been distressful to him was considered totally acceptable to them.

Enjoyable Times

power to mess up enjoyable times. Celebrations and festivals are marred by lack of peace. Vacations can be spoiled, even ruined, by arguments over petty and inconsequential details. Shouting matches replace happiness, enjoyment, and relaxation with negative energy.

Peace is a prerequisite for enjoying celebrations, festivals, and vacations. The more special the occasion, the greater the damage caused by lack of peace.

During enjoyable times, you will have to answer the following question for yourself: "Is it worthwhile to choose words and actions that will create distress right now?" Put in this form, we will often see clearly that we would be wise to refrain from words and actions that will cause or prolong an unpleasant argument or quarrel.

Even on a regular, average day we will have much to appreciate and for which to be grateful. We can make enjoyable times our standard state. And since we have this choice, isn't it wiser to do what we can to sustain the positive instead of choosing words and actions that will create negativity? You can create an inner message: "Choose words and actions of peace and harmony and make the most of your present moments."

"I used to have a terrible temper," the middle-aged family man shared with me. "Sabbath meals, holidays, and even bar-mitzvahs and weddings were a source of pain. In hindsight it became clear to me that my temper would flare up more when I wasn't running my business and trying to be polite to my customers. I used to blame other people for my self-caused misery. Family members made mistakes they should have known not to make. Waiters were slow and inefficient. There were always things to complain about and my angry kvetching often created arguments and quarrels. A few years ago, my physician told me, 'Either you will learn to take it easy or your heart won't last long enough for you to attend many more celebrations.' That was a shock to me. But a healthy one, for I became totally committed to remaining calm. I still have pain when I realize how much I ruined potentially great times. This increases my resolve to focus on what's really important."

The Greeting of Peace

THE HEBREW WORD FOR PEACE IS SHALOM. WE GREET people with shalom when we encounter them. And we bless people with shalom when we say goodbye. When seeing someone for the first time, or when seeing someone we haven't seen in a long time, we use the traditional greeting of Shalom Aleichem," which means "peace unto you."

The word shalom means both peace and harmony. It has the same root as sholaim, which means wholeness. When there is an atmosphere of harmony, we feel whole and complete. And when a person feels whole, he is more likely to be at peace with himself and with others.

We bless people with peace. They should have inner peace and peace with others. When you have harmony, you function at your best. When two people work in harmony, they bring out the best in each other. When there is harmony in an organization or a community, everyone brings out the best in everyone else. And we are all very different at our best than we are at our worst.

Every time you say or hear the greeting of "Shalom" you have a reminder of the importance and value of peace. Let each greeting remind you to be careful not to say things that create the opposite of peace. And just as people greet each other with blessings of peace, because we want others to have harmony in their lives, so, too, we should think about what we can say and do to bring peace among those who lack it.

I knew someone who wasn't on very good terms with a colleague of his. I hadn't seen them in a while and when I met them at a wedding of a mutual acquaintance, I saw them sitting at the same table, engaged in friendly conversation. I told the person I knew, "I'm interested in the process of people improving their interactions. Is there anything in your experience that I can learn from ?"

He said, I was ill for about two weeks. When I returned to work, my colleague greeted me with an amazing smile, one of the friendliest greetings of Shalom Aleichem that I have ever heard, and said to me, 'I'm so glad that you are well.' This expression of positive feelings about my recovery enabled me to focus on his good qualities and on what I respect and like about him."

What's Really Important in Your Life

WE ARE ALL ARE 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 are 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 benefits 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?"

When I was a young student, a rabbi of mine passed by when I was involved in an angry quarrel with another student. He said to us with a smile, "You are both too valuable to spend your time in a petty quarrel. Think of all the potential uses of time right now that you can choose. In the future, how would you have wished to have spent your time."

Understandably, we both stopped fighting. I have often avoided quarrels by remembering what he told us. The quarrel was over something trivial, but the lesson we learned was invaluable.

Solutions Versus Blaming

When you find yourself in a conflict with someone, focus on finding solutions. This is in contrast to thinking and speaking in terms of blaming.

Some blaming patterns are: "It's your fault that we are fighting."

"If you were more reasonable, we wouldn't argue so much."

"Your negative character traits are at the root of all our problems in getting along."

"If you were different, we would get along just fine."

"Any objective outsider would agree that you are totally wrong and I am totally right."

The person on the receiving end of this blaming rarely responds:

"You're right. It's all my fault. I'll act better from now on."

"Yes. I need to take a course to learn how to be more reasonable. When I master Reasonableness 101, then we won't argue."

"My negative character traits are truly negative. I'll work on refining my character and then the root will be taken care of and we'll get along."

"That's absolutely correct. I need to learn how to be different. And then we'll get along just fine."

"Those outside observers are right in agreeing that I am totally wrong and you are totally right. I'll switch my entire way of thinking, speaking, and acting to the way that you do and then we'll have peace."

If you are fortunate enough to meet someone who responds this way, then making these statements will result in peace. But the reason there are so many quarrels in the world is because the standard reaction to blaming is counter-blaming.

Whenever you find yourself in a conflict, ask yourself, "What can I say or do that might be a solution to this situation?"

In the vast majority of situations, refraining from blaming prevents a situation from getting worse. And then your mind is more likely to be free to think of potential solutions.

A fellow who was married for over ten years shared with me, "I grew up in a home where my father would always try to pin the blame on someone for anything that went wrong. 'Whose fault is it?' he would frequently say.

"I thought that this is the correct and normal way to respond. So after I was married, I would frequently say, 'Whose fault is it? 'My wife would respond, 'It's more your fault than mine. And anyway, why do we need to keep finding fault?'

"It seemed so natural for me to ask this question that I thought it was obvious: After we find out whose fault it is, then the problem will just take care of itself. It's now amazing to me how long

It took me to realize that it's usually counterproductive to ask the fault-finding, blaming question. Once I developed the new habit of asking, 'What solution can we think of?' everything went much more smoothly."


"What's the Best Option for Dealing With This?"

EACH SITUATION CAN BE DEALT WITH IN MANY WAYS. Some ways are positive, sensible, and beneficial. These might be simple ways or creative ways. But the common factor is that the options are conducive to peace.

Other options will cause difficulties with others and problems for yourself. These options are counterproductive and problematic and will cause or prolong quarrels.

Keep asking yourself the question, "What's the best option for dealing with this?"

Using the word "option" tells you that there are always a number of choices. And using the word "best" implies that some options are better than others. When we are calm and clear-minded this appears to be obvious. But it's not so obvious to someone who is irritated, upset, or angry.

Practice brainstorming to come up with numerous approaches to solve interpersonal difficulties. When you brainstorm, you write down every idea that comes to mind, even if at first glance it might seem totally impractical. An idea that might seem silly or just a joke might have a kernel of truth. It might lead the way to finding a valid and workable solution.

You can even brainstorm with a group of friends or family members. You might present an outline of the challenges you are having with an anonymous person, without going into details and without saying anything negative, and members of the group could brainstorm with you. Together you might find a few potential solutions to resolve those challenges and create a peaceful interaction. With the input you receive, you might find solutions to thorny and complex difficulties.

Whenever you ask yourself, "What's the best option for dealing with this?" your brain will automatically tell you that certain options are definitely not approaches you should take. Even if you don't come up with a workable solution by brain-storming, knowing what not to do is a tremendous gain.

I spoke to someone who would frequently get into quarrels. "It's not my fault," he said. 'I have to call a spade a spade. I tell people straightforwardly how it is. I do things according to standard operating procedures and I expect others to do the same. If they don't, they are going to hear my thoughts on the matter."

I suggested that he try to think of various options and not to just repeat the same patterns. He felt that I was asking him not to be himself. I politely suggested that his essence is not the patterns that he happens to use, and it will in no way negate his essential being to try out other options. But he refused to accept what I and others told him. His inflexibility was clearly the cause of his difficulties with other people, but he preferred to blame them rather than look for better options. Hopefully he will eventually decide to think of and apply wiser options.


Be Concise and Focus on Your Outcome


One of the biggest mistakes people make when they argue with others is that they go on and on, for much too long. Frequently the other person isn't really listening. He is just waiting for his turn to deliver his soliloquy.

The longer one speaks when there is a quarrel, the more likely it is that he will say things that would have been better not said. Reminding a person of his past mistakes and errors is usually not conducive to resolving issues. Pointing out to a person how he reminds you of this or that difficult-to-get-along-with person is usually not conducive to resolving issues. Putting a person down, speaking condescendingly, and adding lengthy stories and metaphors is usually not conducive to resolving issues.

The short formula to keep in mind during a quarrel is: Be concise and focus on your outcome.

Omit unnecessary words. Let each word count. Each word should be part of what you need to say to reach your outcome.

Clarify the outcome you wish to achieve before you begin to speak. Keep it in mind while you are talking. Keep asking yourself the question, "Will this help me reach the outcome I want?" Remember at all times that you are not speaking in an empty room. You have a listening audience. And the purpose of your speaking is to communicate a message to the listener. His reaction to what you say is not a minor part of the communication. Rather, it is the essence of it. If you don't care at all how he reacts, why talk to him? Go to an empty room and just speak. At times this can be an effective tool to let off steam. But when you want to speak to another person to resolve quarrels and to create harmony, only say what you think will be helpful for reaching your goal.

One reason many people are not concise is because they are waiting for a response from the other person and that person doesn't offer any feedback. In many situations, if the speaker continues talking, there is less of a chance of him being successful with his communication. When you want feedback that is not spontaneously offered, keep asking questions such as, "Does this make sense to you?" "Do you agree with this?" "What are your thoughts on what I just said?" "How do you see it?"

"I considered myself a good speaker," someone related, "but somehow when I got into a quarrel, I frequently didn't get my points across as successfully as I wanted. I couldn't understand why. When I taught in school, the students liked my classes. I was very clear and gave many examples.

"I spoke to an expert in communication and he asked me to give him examples of how I would speak to others. I even had him listen to my side of the conversation on the telephone when I was in the middle of an argument. He opened my eyes by telling me that I went on and on for way too long. The stories and analogies I gave were perfect for explaining my lessons in class. But they were a waste of time when I was in the middle of an argument. He asked me how often someone said to me, 'The parable you just said is exactly what I needed to hear to agree with you. Now I realize that I am wrong, and you are right.' I had to acknowledge that this didn't usually happen. His message to me was: Know your goal and keep it short. This was so important for me to hear that I pasted it near my telephone."

King Solomon's Wise Formula

N PROVERBS (27:19), WE FIND AN AMAZING FORMULA FOR peace. "As in water, face to face, so too is the heart of one person to another."

When you look at your reflection in a pond or in a mirror, you will see the exact same expression that is on your face. If you frown and scowl, you will see a frown and scowl staring right back at you. And if you smile and wave, you will see a smile and a wave. This is a natural law of physics. To frown and expect to see a smile in the mirror isn't a wise expectation.

King Solomon teaches us that this natural law has a counterpoint in the laws of human nature. The inner feelings you experience towards someone will be reflected back to you from the heart of that person.

See the good in other people. See them as souls who have high aspirations, even if at present they are not yet using all of their potential. See people as they will be when they are at their best. Judge people favorably. See the positive intentions of what they say and do, even when it would be preferable if they chose better ways to accomplish those positive intentions.

The way to influence people to feel better towards you is to radiate unconditional love and respect towards them. When someone likes and respects you first, it's easier to reciprocate those feelings. It is a step towards greatness to be the one to create unconditional love and respect when you need to sustain it in the face of challenges. Be willing to take this step.

There was a person who was angry at me because he mistakenly thought that I had acted against his interests. I had told him that he was mistaken, and he told me that I was lying. He wasn't a bit open to hear the reality: Someone had said something in my name that wasn't true. I felt bad about this and his angry state put me in an unresourceful state. I decided to inwardly feel as positively as I could and would greet him in a friendly way. I kept this up and we ended up on good terms.

Who is an Honorable Person?

A MAJOR UNDERLYING ISSUE IN MANY QUARRELS IS THAT people feel that someone else didn't treat them with the proper respect. The specific details of the quarrel are trivial compared to the fundamental need to be treated with respect.

"Who is an honorable person?" ask the Sages (Pirkei Avos 4:1). "The one who shows honor and respect to others." That is, your honor and respect do not depend on how others treat you. Rather, the more honor and respect that you express to others, the more honorable you yourself are. We all want to be treated with basic respect. As we internalize the essential message of the Sages, we will decrease our concern about how others treat us and we will increase our concern about how we treat others.

Be an honorable person. Show honor and respect in words and actions to others. Make this such an integral part of who you are that this is your spontaneous way of speaking and acting. Respect starts with your thoughts. Realize that each person is created in the Almighty's image. Each person has a soul with great potential. Each person has qualities that can be respected.

The more difficult it is to treat someone with respect, the more honorable you are. Let this motivate you to experience an inner respect to even the most challenging people with whom you need to interact. Even if you haven't treated someone with the respect due to each human and are already in the midst of a quarrel, by accessing a respectful way of thinking, speaking, and acting you will be able to find a solution to quarrels that arise.

I asked a number of people, "Did you ever feel angry towards someone and then changed your feelings?" Many people replied, "Yes." "What did you or the other person do or say to make the change?" I asked. An answer that sticks out in my mind is, "I disliked someone greatly. I was very critical of him and, I have to admit, a bit envious. But he began to treat me with great respect. At first I said to myself, 'He won't keep this up.' He did, however. I began to see him in a much better light and now I actually feel good whenever I meet him."



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