Way #11: Work It Through With Friends
Companies test-market new products. To know the value of your ideas, find friends to give you straight, honest feedback.
All over people are fighting. Religious fighting, national fighting, family fighting. Some are even ready to die because they think they're right. How are we ever going to put this world back together?
Way #11 is dik'duk chaveirim – literally "cut if fine with friends." See the importance of sitting down, of reasoning together. Don't assume your viewpoint is correct. Open yourself to the ideas of others. "You don't have to kill me. If you persuade me that you're right, then I'll join you."
We need real friends – someone you can trust, to discuss plans, feelings, ambitions. With a friend, you don't worry about scoring points or winning ego contests. A good friend will listen to the pros and cons and give you straight, honest feedback.
This is especially important with decisions like: Should I marry so-and-so? Should I accept this job offer? Should I move into this neighborhood? Everyone has different insights. Amongst many people you'll find many solutions.
Some roads can be traveled alone, but the road of life shouldn't be one of them. Go with a friend.
Choose Your Friends Carefully
When shopping for a car, you decide in advance on a specific set of features, and then shop around for the best deal before making an investment.
We should do no less when looking for a friend.
Yet often our friends are the result of circumstances: neighbors, colleagues, roommates. "We played tennis on the same court, then shared a pizza and now we're friends." It's not as simple as that. A good tennis partner might not make a good friend once your interest in tennis has waned. Ask yourself: "What will this friend be like 20 years from now?"
Be pro-active and go find the right friend. A friend should be for life. Choose a friend who seeks truth, and whose goals and values you respect.
The definition of friendship is loyalty. Loyalty means that even though your paths diverge, you won't just dump each other. You share an identity, a closeness. You know he's on your side, and you're on his side. You'll always do whatever you can to help.
The currency is trust. You pay with trust, and gain a friend in return. The better the friend, the more trust you have to pay.
The Torah tells us that "two are better than one." Why? Because we can be more objective about others' mistakes than about our own. If you yell at your kids, your friend will tell you, "ttttt." If he yells at his kids, you'll tell him, "tttt." You are there to lift each other, and give constructive criticism to correct errors.
A close friend stimulates your creativity, like a think tank. You get together and brainstorm ideas. Anything goes. A friend won't shoot you down because you said something ridiculous.
A friend is more than companionship. A true friend helps you become the best you can be.
Don't Argue – Discuss!
"Capital punishment?" The voice rises decibels. "You don't what know you're talking about. You're crazy!"
Be provocative. Get into an argument about an issue of genuine concern. Not for the sake of argument, but for the sake of stimulating good, intense discussion.
Become a connoisseur of discussions. Don't proclaim, don't yell. Just communicate your position. And be open to new ideas. Ask questions. Analyze the evidence together. Don't be afraid of finding out you are making a mistake.
The most important topics to explore are the meaning of life. If you think there's a God, then get into an argument with an atheist. Ask him: "What's your evidence? Why have you come to that conclusion?"
Aish published a book entitled "Shmooze" – a great tool for sparking deep, meaningful discussion. It contains provocative questions and traditional sources for 10 important topics like love, tolerance, anti-Semitism, and gossip. (info at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
To stay cool, remind yourself that other people are as passionate as you about their positions. Just as you don't automatically accept, don't automatically reject. The next guy has a point of view based on some kind of evidence. It could be wrong, but it must be respected. There's a method to his madness!
Discuss back and forth: "I see that. I understand you." Assuming you don't disagree with everything the other person says, validate before disagreeing. "You've got a good point, but what about...?"
Don't get discouraged when things get a little heated. With practice, you can learn to change every argument into a discussion. Listen carefully and try to understand. Lower your voice and say: "Please tell me your reasons." You will make new friends, deepen your relationships, and grow in wisdom.
Do your discussions often end in someone getting aggravated, agitated and abusive?
A successful discussion is built around the maxim: "People of goodwill who reason together will reach a common conclusion."
- I am willing to hear the other side.
- I want to know the truth.
- I will consider the evidence.
- I am willing to change, even if it's painful.
How do you get the other guy into this? Remind him: "I want to know the truth, just as you want to know the truth. You think you have evidence, and I think I have evidence. So let's compare. If I'm making a mistake, please show me. I am willing to change. Either convince me or join me!"
Instead of sticking to the facts, people often end up attacking each other. Whenever you get into a discussion with someone who is insulting or antagonistic, stop and focus both of you on "goodwill." Define your terms together. Bring the conversation into rational terms. Otherwise, you are boxed into your respective positions and there is no use arguing.
The key is to be a judge, not a lawyer. What's the difference between a judge and a lawyer? A lawyer argues for the side that's paying his fee. A judge remains objective so he can weigh both sides and discover the truth.
People who get into arguments as "lawyers" are only interested in winning the discussion. They may "listen" to the other person, but they don't really "hear." They hear only what they want to hear.
Imagine you have a confrontation with your auto mechanic. "You did a terrible job on my car." He says: "I did a terrible job? You are a bum of a client!" Diffuse the tension. Tell him: "Look, if I made a mistake, I want to admit it. If you made a mistake, do you want to admit it? Okay, let's look at the evidence."
This is a different way of dealing with problems, a different communication climate. You have a good chance of turning around a belligerent customer, an irate parent, or an insubordinate child. We have the ability to reason together.
As the Talmud says: The way to tell if an argument is sincerely about the truth, is when both people come out loving each other more in the end. It isn't easy, but it's worthwhile.
Pursuit of Truth
To make the most out of your discussions, have a list of important topics ready (either on paper, or mentally). At lunch, take a break from discussing the stock market and instead talk about important ideas. At first, it may be difficult to get your friends into it, but once you do, they'll love you for it.
The most important subjects to deal with are those that form our basic outlook – e.g. the existence of God, why is there suffering, free will, the purpose of life.
In Judaism, we understand these concepts by learning Torah. And the preferred method for Torah study is with a partner (chevruta in Hebrew). Working it out with a friend is an essential part of finding truth. If Torah is God's instructions, we'd better get it straight!
The Talmud speaks about the great scholar Rabbi Yochanan and his study partner Reish Lakish. The two learned together for many years, until one day Reish Lakish got sick and died. Rabbi Yochanan was totally distraught over the loss. His students tried to comfort him by saying, "Don't worry, Rabbi. We'll find you a new study partner – the most brilliant man in town."
A few weeks later, Rabbi Yochanan was seen walking down the street, totally depressed. "Rabbi, what's the problem?" his students asked. "We sent you a brilliant study partner. Why are you so sad?"
Rabbi Yochanan told them: "He is indeed a scholar. In fact, he's so brilliant that he can come up with 24 ways to prove what I'm saying is correct. But when I studied with Reish Lakish, he brought 24 proofs that I was wrong. And that's what I miss! I want a partner who will criticize and question. That's what Torah study is all about."
Criticism leads to growth. And growth is the excitement of life. But criticism is also a difficult thing to accept. Some people are so afraid to reveal mistakes that they'd rather be recluse. The trick is to find friends who are sensitive enough to give positive feedback, along with the criticism.
If you want greatness, you need teamwork. So put your ideas on the market place. Anything great in this world has been accomplished through teamwork: the moon shot, the Internet, civil rights. If you are proved right, you accomplish little. But if you are proved wrong, you gain much – you learn the truth.
The Talmud goes so far as to say, "chavruta o matuta" – a study partner or death. "Death" in this context means wasting time and opportunities. A study partner forces you to be real with yourself.
Become the type of person who seeks truth, who wants to "do the right thing." That is the way to communicate with others.
Why is "Working It Through With Friends" a Way to Wisdom?
- Friends are too important to leave to chance. Choose a friend to accomplish life goals with.
- Discuss ideas with others who can be more objective than we are about ourselves.
- Close friends stimulate and expand your ideas.
- To achieve greatness, you need others to help you get there. You need teamwork.
- You are affected by friends and environment. If they want wisdom, you'll want wisdom.
- If you find yourself at a philosophical loggerhead, remember that people of goodwill who reason together will reach a common conclusion.
- A primary goal in life is to correct your mistakes. Don't be afraid to find out if you've made a mistake.