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Great Ideas
by Avi Shulman

If there is a fly on the table and you want to destroy it, what are your options? You can roll up a newspaper and swat it; you can use a book to hit it; you can use a sledgehammer; or you can use a fly swatter. In each case, if you hit the fly, you will kill it.

The difference in each of these four methods is not what happens to the fly, but rather what happens to the crystal glassware, the table setting, or the table itself. Using a rolled up newspaper, you risk breaking some dishes and crystal; using a book, you can cause the glasses to topple; using a sledgehammer, you will probably scratch or break the table. The fly swatter can best do the job without harming anything else.

This mundane observation has an important lesson for us.

Western culture implies that in almost every case "more and bigger are better." That's why wealthy people drive bigger cars and live in larger houses than they need, because they mistakenly reason that if they can afford it, why not? Isn't bigger always better?

There are many areas in life where less is more effective. For example, where criticism and punishment are concerned, most of the time less is better.

I have a friend who uses sweeping words, phrases, and statements. I first noticed this when he was driving and a small leaf was stuck to the windshield. His comment: "The leaf is driving me crazy!" When I registered surprise at such strong language, he said what he meant was that the leaf was "annoying" him, and then he added, "But what's the difference? It's only words!"

Just as an intelligent craftsman uses the appropriate tool or instrument to do the right job, so too the intelligent person uses the right words to describe his feelings accurately. Words are the tools of the mind, the instruments with which we express our thoughts. To a large extent, the words we use create our frame of mind, our attitude.

As an example, when we use very strong words to express a relatively minor discomfort, we increase the discomfort.

"It's so cold I am freezing to death... It's so hot I'm boiling... If I don't make this sale, I'll go bankrupt!" We actually increase our own level of discomfort by the strong words we use!

Why is this so? Because our minds and our subconscious hear every word we speak, and they instruct the body to respond accordingly.

In contrast, we know people who have taught themselves to use language intentionally to reduce the level of discomfort. They might use words such as unpleasant, displease, disagree, unappealing, and distasteful to describe situations that others might describe as terrible, horrible and tragic. The result of mild language is that it doesn't bring out the deep, negative emotions that strong words do.

When a milder, more gentle word will adequately convey your message, use it. Your mind will hear these words, and your body will react accordingly. More dramatic words don't do a better job. On the contrary, "broad strokes" in language may cause undesirable damage, like a sledgehammer.

* * *


For the most part, we teach people how to respect us. We project messages by the way we speak, walk, dress, act, and conduct ourselves with others.

Here are examples of instructive behavior, with their meanings in parentheses:

- Speaking in a focused manner without babbling. (I take the time to think through what I want to say. I have it clear in my mind. Please address me accordingly.)

- Not reading, listening to, or watching mindless material. (I value my mind, and don't want it full of rubbish. Please don't offer me junk.)

- Referring to others by their appropriate title; referring to friends as "important people," not "the guys." (I value my friends. Please respect this, and treat me accordingly.)

- Coming on time for appointments. (I value my time and yours. Please respond accordingly.)

- Speaking with a positive, upbeat attitude. (I feel and work better with a positive attitude. Please don't dump negative things on me.)

- Not responding to a person blowing a car horn to get one's attention. (It can't be for me, because that's not how people address me.)

- Associating only with fine people. (I am an upright person, and feel comfortable only with people who have good values. Please don't make me uncomfortable by introducing me to unsavory people.)

- Making sure one's clothing is neat and clean. (People view me as a leader, so I have to dress the part. I want to be a walking inspiration. Please don't put me into a situation where I have to compromise my values.)

The Talmud tells us that (according to one version) a person who eats in the marketplace is not accepted by Jewish courts as a credible witness. Rabbi Aharon Kotler explains that a person who has little self-respect and behaves in an antisocial manner is untrustworthy and can even lie to the court. By eating in the marketplace, he announces to the world, "I don't respect myself," and we respond accordingly: "If you don't respect yourself, we can't respect you either."

Most of us want to blame others for any perceived lack of respect. "They don't respect me," we say. "They" could be a spouse, siblings, family, friends, congregants, students, coworkers, or anyone else with whom we deal. It is always easier to blame "them."

This new understanding really puts the blame for how "they" treat us directly on how we taught them to treat us. Give this idea some thought... it may revolutionize your thinking.


Excerpted with permission from "GREAT IDEAS" -- love and limits in raising children. Published by Shaar Press/Mesorah Publications Ltd., Brooklyn, NY -

Reprinted with permission from InnerNet Magazine



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