Understanding Others Begins With YOU

Understanding Others Begins With YOU

By Harav Y R Rubin Shlita


Go on, admit it: we all have at least one, and sometimes they seem to become the bane of our life. I am talking about difficult people, those intolerable folk who seem to just thrive on pushing your buttons and making your life miserable.


I don’t know anyone who does not have a difficult person to contend with on a daily basis. It may be a co-worker, boss, spouse, sibling or a child.


It must be part of Hashem’s plan because it is so common. There must be a reason for it; it is something vital that we are supposed to be learning from.


I should add that it might be worthwhile taking a moment to look in the mirror yourself as it might be you that is someone else’s “difficult person”! How’s that for a scary thought?


As one who is often called upon to share others problems, “difficult people” rank high on the list of issues people feel strongly about.


I have had a long time to think about this and would like to share some thoughts with you. In the realm of behaviour support groups there are a few rules that are shared by most, which are called “the three C’s”:


1 We don’t cause others’ behaviour.

2 We can’t control them

3 We can’t change them or their behaviour.


In the reality of one’s life, all you can do is change yourself! This may be a bitter truth to accept but till you do, all you will experience is more difficulty. As much as your particular “difficult person” may need to change, your way of interacting with them needs to change as well.


Usually, however, our first reaction to this idea is to continue to think you can change that someone else. We tend to believe in our ability to convince those difficult souls that they are unreasonable and that you can show them the light.  Well, there is an expression used for this, “Go knock yourself out!”, which means, go on, bang your head against the wall, it won’t help and all you will have is a headache.


Reality is living in the present and accepting the truth that the only person you can actually change is yourself, and this is why you have been placed on this earth.


The Gemoro tells us that Rabbi Elozor ben Azaria wondered whether there was anyone in his generation who knew how to rebuke with due sensitivity and Rabbi Tarfon wondered whether anyone in his generation was capable of receiving rebuke without accusing the one giving the rebuke of hypocrisy.” (Erachin 16b). Humans find it difficult to handle being told off; they often become offended, and immediately shut down.


So if this is the situation, then Chazal must be hinting that the main one we can change is ourselves and that this is, in fact, the Divine Plan.


This is Hashem’s self-improvement plan for the likes of us mere humans, and it is the key to spiritual growth.


Chazal tell us to strive to emulate Hashem’s ways in our lives. When confronting difficult people we are being given a chance to act in a Divine way, by seeking change within ourselves and with that, showing others what holiness is in this world of human relations.


The sefer Tomer Devorah teaches us that the secret of learning to emulate Hashem is in the Thirteen Attributes of Hashem’s compassion. The first attribute is Mi Keil Kamocha, “Who is as merciful as You, Hashem?”


The malochim tell us that Hashem bears insult, tolerates our sins, reacts with compassion, and does not withdraw His life force from us.

Hashem grants us life with the hope that eventually we will realise our mistakes, wake up, improve and become the person He knows we can be.


We are being shown here a motif for our personal growth. We all have an inner spiritual barometer; it’s called the neshomah and it tells us when we are out of kilter. When we feel that things are unbearable, be this through our own personal challenges or through the agency of outsiders, we are meant to look within and start to correct our inner spiritual well-being.


Many times Hashem sends us people, certain souls that come into our lives, to help us realise our own faults and facilitate our growth.


Difficult challenges are the birth pangs of future growth, and those involved are unwitting facilitators.


This is neither the time nor the place to delve further into these matters, I am just trying to share some ideas, and hope we can spark positive thought.


We are about to enter into the holiest day of the year. It is a time filled with tefillah, self- reflection, and fresh resolve. We should pray for those we find so difficult, that they find their way forward whilst we accept their being and work on ourselves. We should, above all else, try to reflect Hashem’s middos in the reality that we live. Showing rachamim-mercy- to others and in turn awakening rachamim from Hashem.


May we all be blessed with a git kvital with a renewed understanding and compassion for those whom we encounter.

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