Way #40: Make Others Meritorious
We all recognize the need to take responsibility when someone is in physical danger. We're just as obligated when it's a spiritual danger.
Imagine you're staying at a hotel, and a guy in the next room climbs over the balcony and is going to jump. Will you step forward to help? Or will you stand aside and enjoy the excitement as the crowd yells "Jump! Jump!"
You know that you care. So what are you going to do to help? If he asks you, "Why shouldn't I jump," what are you going to say? Beyond this, do you even have the right to stop him if he wants to jump?
It's not enough just to "feel" another's problems. You've got to actually do something to help. Fight the tendency to stand back, criticizing and shaking your head at other's mistakes. Way #40 is mach'riyo li'kaf zechut – literally "judging favorably." We must help other people change their lives and get back on track.
As human beings we care and want to help. You'll do all you can to stop him. You'll never forgive yourself if you just stand there.
Now apply this to the rest of your life.
In order to help others, you have to accept the responsibility. One of the earliest and most important lessons of Judaism is that "we are our brother's keepers." We all live in this world together. It's easy to take responsibility when someone is in physical danger. You're just as obligated when he's in spiritual danger.
Help your friend confront his problem. If he needs help, take action – even if your assistance might initially stir up resentment. And even if you don't like the other person, you can't excuse yourself by saying, "It serves him right."
Before you give up on anyone – be it an alcoholic, a lazy employee, or a friend who betrayed you – give him the benefit of the doubt. Make every feasible effort to restore him to sanity. Try at least 10 ways to help him before you write him off. Wouldn't you want others to give you the same consideration?
One of the most important steps in helping others is to have a plan. And not just one plan, but several back-up plans! If one plan doesn't work to straighten them out, then come up with a new one. If you value a human being enough, you'll have the patience to find the best method you can.
- Be creative.
- Search for solutions.
- Be determined not to stop until you succeed.
Do what you can to motivate others to live more productively. To accomplish this, focus on his particular problem – e.g. lack of self-confidence, arrogance, etc.
The idea is not to "explain" or "preach" to someone who needs help. Don't tell him he's bleeding; stop the bleeding. Get him into the right pattern of living.
To reach the right solution, isolate what's causing the problem. You don't change people; people change themselves. The best you can do is enlighten people. This in turn changes their perspective in life, and the actions follow suit. This is corrective criticism.
For example, if you know someone is depressed, it usually stems from a feeling that his life is pointless. So show him how to be happy, by getting him in touch with how much he has.
Help him in a practical way: "Let's go for a run… for a swim… paint a picture… buy a new hat." Share a problem where he can help, or motivate him to volunteer for a worthwhile organization where he can do good for others. These things help get him out of depression.
Be genuinely interested. Showing interest earns the trust of others, and makes them more open to you. Even if you don't tell people directly how to make their lives better, just the fact that you care develops their admiration for you, and allows them to learn from your good habits.
Anytime someone makes a mistake, you can assume he's missing information about life. Check if there's a gap of information you can fill. You have to see what's going wrong. For example, what causes unhappiness in our generation? Decadence, selfishness, wanting quick and easy solutions, etc. Figure out how to help. At the very least, the effort of trying will make you a better human being.
Judge People Favorably
Did you ever buy an item, and then later find out that another store in town was selling the same thing for half-price? How mad we were at the first store!
Normally, when we see a person acting inappropriately, we immediately assume he did it on purpose.
The 48 Ways says: Don't regard the store owner as an evil thief. See him instead as a victim of rationalizations. Quite possibly, when he set the price, he convinced himself that it's okay to overcharge because his store provides better service in a more convenient location.
Does this sound outrageous? Think about yourself. Can you bear such scrutiny?
Whenever you see someone do something wrong, it's okay to be suspicious. But don't draw conclusions until you've totally checked out the facts. What occurred may be nothing more than an honest mistake, or some factor we totally overlooked. Remembering this will make us more likely to keep our tempers and condemnations in bounds.
As an exercise, try judging favorably your parents. They may not always do things exactly as we'd like, but invariably they love us and want the best for us. Be patient and give them the benefit of the doubt.
See the Merit in Everyone
Essentially, people are craving to be good. Therefore, when someone makes a mistake and acts badly, the one he's hurting the most is himself. Realizing this will help reduce your anger toward him.
For example, if you know an arrogant person, don't just write him off as a swaggering braggart. Instead, have some compassion. Under the surface, his arrogance is a manifestation of terrible insecurities. Think how much he suffers from his arrogance, and how lonely he must be because his arrogance drives people away from him.
It's easy to get caught up in the negative aspects of people's personalities and inner struggles. In judging someone "to the side of merit," we first have to assume he has merit. Everyone has virtues, though sometimes it's buried under confusion and pain. Make an effort to discover those virtues.
Why is "Making Others Meritorious" a Way to Wisdom?
- To be a good human being, you have to be as equally concerned with others. Their lives and suffering are just as real as yours.
- When we're helping others, our minds are objective and functioning well. Then we can do the same for ourselves.
- Don't "suffer" humanity's problems. Instead, find a cure.
- Give to others the precious ideas you have learned. Whenever you hear a good piece of wisdom, ask: "How can this idea help my friend?"
- When people do things that cause you harm, don't automatically assume they're out to get you.
- Judge people to the side of good. If you see their merits, you'll be able to help them.
- People need each other. Do everything you can to help.
- Feel you are responsible. "The buck stops here."