Well-meaning people, very often make wrong decisions, even when they’re logical. Their mistakes are usually not in their conclusions, but on what they perceived were the real issues. I’ve previously written about people who’ve made well-meaning errors, which resulting from a lack of understanding of the root issues of an event versus the symptoms. In this article I’ll discuss another reason that cause people to make wrong decisions.
Most people are confronted throughout their day, by many events, including: interactions with people, objects, and what is referred to as “life”. Some events may only make a minor difference in their lives, such as when their child misses, the bus, and causes them to divert a half hour of their day to take them to school. Other events can be more significant, such as a much needed job opportunity.
Even though some events may seem minor, their ripple effects can make significant differences in their lives. For instance, a child may miss a bus, and require a parent to take him/her to school. As a result, the parent may come late to a job interview, which will hurt his/her chances of being hired.
How significant is the risk of arriving late for the interview? The ripple effect of losing a half hour to drive their child to school may be exaggerated. However, just as some people may exaggerate a minor event, other people are unable to connect the ripple effects of “losing” a half hour in the morning, to being late for an afternoon appointment. It can be argued how great the risk is and an argument between parents about the risk is another ripple effect caused by the child’s missing the bus.
The conflict between two people who believe that the other is exaggerating, or downplaying, the effect of an earlier event, may increase the ripple effect of the initial event because each is challenging the validity of the other’s reaction. One of them sees a “real” problem; the other doesn’t see any. The person who sees the problem, becomes frustrated, and angry, that the other person refuses to admit that there’s a problem. The other person is offended because s/he’s spoken to as if s/he’s “blind”. Communication, and sensitivity, is always necessary, even if it won’t succeed in “converting” the other person. It may avoid creating another ripple effect, and ongoing resentment from the conversation.
A more damaging, and less recognized, result of improperly seeing an event happens when people are mistaken as to what the event represents. Below are several examples:
1) Someone is in need of a “place” for Shabbos. A family which usually invites people for Shabbos declines to offer an invitation, because they don’t have enough time to properly prepare the meals. Their mistake was believing that the request for the invitation was about the food. The request was about not feeling left out, and maybe even homeless. It was to have a place that’ll make them feel as if they “belong”. The food wasn’t a significant part of the need. Not giving an invitation because of insufficient time to properly prepare the food, was the result of not understanding what the request was really about. Inviting guests isn’t about making the hosts feel good by offering multiple courses, even if this is a strong motivator. It’s about offering people something that they would otherwise not have available to them, and that’s an inviting home for Shabbos.
2) People will sometimes ask for favors and the response indicates that the recipients believe that the requests were taking advantage of them, and they become upset. However, that’s not what the request was about. Sometimes all the requester wanted was a “sign” that they’re friends. When children make unfair requests from parents, it’s often a search for proof that their parents love them. However, when they get a response, it should be preceded by an awareness of what the request was really about.
3) Parents that focus on the way that their children dress, or their poor Davening attendance, or any other behavior, should be aware that the focus should never be about the behavior, which is only the symptom. It should be always about the root, which can’t always be “seen”. The above examples should highlight to the readers that responding to the “wrong reason” often fuels the problem that people were hoping to solve. A person may not have found a place for Shabbos. A child with a rejected request for help may become angry at his/her parents. Children whose parents responded to their poor dress code, or poor attendance at Davening will continue their decline. “Seeing” what “it’s really about” is not a luxury, but it’s the difference between having a successful life, or a life filled with mistakes, corrections, setbacks, and more corrections. Life will go on, but it’ll be with a continuous struggle.
4) Sometimes not understanding what it’s “really about” can be even more damaging than what it appears on the surface. Some people may focus on financial costs, even though the mental health of someone they care about is at stake. It becomes difficult to “disengage” them from considering the cost, and to focus on what’s more important, especially when the cost is the result of the emotionally, unhealthy, person’s negligence. The costs (car accident, unpaid debt, or not showing up to work) are trivial relative to the more important issue of directing the person in need of help towards healthy living.
5) When parents have a difficult child, sometimes, one parent may have to constantly calm the other, who may then feel slighted by their spouse, for dedicating too much time, and energy, on this child. The “insulted” spouse needs to understand that, at that moment, it should not be about him/her, even if “s/he also have feelings”.
Some people are gifted and immediately see what “it’s really about” in everything that happens. Others, who aren’t naturally “gifted”, may have to place significant efforts to improve their skills. Still others may be oblivious to any aspect of an “event” which can’t be clearly seen.
Most people see what it’s really about only in areas in which they have a passion. For instance, a husband may become upset at his wife because she won’t invite a Shabbos guest, if there wasn’t enough time to prepare food for the guest. The husband is aware that it’s not about the food, and becomes upset at his wife. However, the husband wasn’t aware that his wife’s resistance to inviting the guest also wasn’t about the food. It was about feeling inadequate, in her husband’s eyes, and possibly even in her eyes.
I once heard a phrase that in the land of the blind the one eyed is king. Partially understanding an event (the guest, but not the wife’s resistance) makes people appear like the one eyed person. People who’ve experienced the awareness of knowing what “it’s really about” in some area, will realize that it’s more than a life enhancing skill. It’s living with clarity. Those who can’t see beyond the event are, in a sense, blind. Those who choose to see what it’s about in the areas for which they have passion, are seeing with one eye. They take pride in “getting it”, but they’re unaware that they’re only partially seeing what’s really taking place.
“Taste” the clarity, savor the moment, and decide to cultivate the skills needed to know “what it’s really about”, despite the effort and changes that’ll be needed.