THE RELIGIOUS SOURCE AND POWER OF POSITIVE TALKING

Giving to others is the starting point of Jewish law - Gimiloot Hesed . What to give is also defined by this law. We are focusing on one of the three categories most relevant to our subject: offering assistance by talking. There are a myriad styles of talking. Reproach, stories, teaching, demanding, pleading, arguing, just to name a few. We will focus on one particular type that in part cuts across some of the above categories but can be seen as a basic type unto itself. This type talking is called Judging Favorably. It is a commandment for all Jews for all generations.

Judging favorably demands of the listener/observer to assign to what appears to be negative behavior a positive meaning or explanation. An example for everyday life: A friend comes late. Before you ask for a explanation for this ‘rude’ behavior you might think which is a sign of not caring for you or just incompetent planning. As a religious alternative you may follow the commandment to judge favorably and assign to this behavior a positive explanation, "there must have been some emergency that he had to attend to and that is what delayed him."

A clinical example may be also of some help. A father was referred to the author after the courts mandated therapy because of child abuse. The court appointed therapist had not been able to get the fathers cooperation and rather then place him in custody he referred him to me. I approached the father from the point of judging him favorably: he loved his son and wanted to save the son from the boys delinquent behavior. He had no other way to express his desire and felt this was the only way. I told him that he must be terribly frustrated and misunderstood. He agreed and we began to work together to ‘save’ the son in a more effective style that would help the boy and allow the father to express his love in a more positive manner.

When I can’t think of a positive explanation or meaning to a certain behavior I think of the following revolutionary message that flows directly from Judging favorably: The source of every failure is an aspiration. When a child fails, or the person feels alone and unwanted we can search for the aspiration behind the present situation. The child wanted a better grade. What can be done next to help him achieve it. The lonely person is being pushed by the loneliness to move towards another. He aspires to fulfill that need. The need is positive while the actual immediate behavior is not be (effective or pleasant).

This particular commandment - like all Torah commandments - is multifaceted. Concealed within this single act is a richness that exerts significant influence on people and their surroundings. 1. it refines the character in the direction of positive warm actions. 2. it brings people closer together. 3. It gets us to explain rather then complain. 4. It keeps us away from slandering others. 5. It prevents anger. 6. It is solution oriented and not problem enhancing. 7. Contributes to greater physical health (lower blood pressure, less stress, more friendships ). 8. Sets up positive expectations for future behavior. 9. It is written that you will be judged as you judge others.

I have found that many people have reservations about doing this - in spite that it is a commandment. Many ask - what about the ‘truth’? After all, he was late! The answers (plural) are complex. Yes, he was late. The question is what do you want to achieve?

1 . let off steam - let him know you are angry?
2 . reproach him?
3 . correct the situation and find a solution?
4 . control yourself?
5 . judge him favorably?
6 . say nothing?
I have found that there are three ways people can carry out this simple but amazingly difficult commandment.

The first is that they do it because they are commanded to do so - - in spite of strong emotional and intellectual reasons not to.
The second is once doing it they are rather pleased with the positive response to their behavior. They see the positive benefits the Sages meant to be.
The third is that they see the deeper truth behind the negative explanations and feelings that are all too common in our society. Thinking twice about any event allows us to see alternative ‘realities’ and choose the desirable response - the best fit to the Torah truth.
Torah is the ultimate arbitrator of both truth and reality and not the our immediate feelings or limited understandings of peoples behavior.

I have put together a list of words that best represent how one should talk when judging favorably. The other list (therapy talk) is what usually goes as ‘therapeutic’ - even while being negative. Compare the two. Take your choice.

traditional therapy Act of kindness
anger .............................. hurt
causality ..........................effects
completion ....................... becoming
control ............................ struggle/self control
declaration..................... question
desires............................ doing what's right
discovery....................... . co-creation through speech
differences .................. similarities
expert ........................... act of kindness
failure ............................. aspiration
judge............................. respect
knowing.......................... awe
lawfulness........................ choice
mine/yours....................... ours/community
missing........................... latent
neutral............................ moral
now................................. not yet
observation..................... participation
past ................................ future
perfection ....................... harmony
problem .......................... solution
resistance ...................... cooperation
rights ............................. obligations
standardization ............... uniqueness
symptom ......................... revolt
understand ..................... act
you ................................. I/we
One is a technical language, while the other is hopeful.

A STORY THAT MOVES PEOPLE

Stories are another example of the power of speech. Like music they mean much more then the sum total of the parts. Each week I will add another short story about people - you and me. Not every story has meaning for you- - but it may have intense meaning for someone else. The story itself does not have meaning until it finds a place in the heart of the listener. It is something co-created by the two people talking. When no meaning is created four possible explanations can be proposed:

1 . The teller has not really understood the inner essence of the listener and his need for advice;
2 . The listener does not want to hear that particular information;
3 . The message is right, but the timing is wrong.
4 . The ‘gift wrapping’ - the style of presentation was wrong.
Each week I will present another story that was meaningful to me as person or as a helper. All too often I hear or read a story and kick myself because ‘if only I would have known that story when I talked to so-in-so’. I have stopped kicking myself and learned to tell the story in the next session.

That reminds me of a story and stories that actually happened to me. I think it would be helpful to pass it on. You can learn from my mistakes -- - -- - maybe (see the four reasons above):

I have worked for a number of years with hypnosis. Once I constructed a story for a 10 year old boy who refused to learn at school. I worked for a number of hours to tailor a story to the boy and his situation. The story was meant to teach him something about himself and to open up alternative ways of struggling with his dilemmas. All this was to be done in an indirect fashion. Tricky, slick, and powerful. A great story that didn’t work.

The story was about twin boys, one who wanted to study, the other wanted to play. The twins were to represent two opposing dives in this one child. I hypnotized the boy who thoroughly enjoyed it. I told the story, slowly, with dramatic flair, timing, and all the other things I was taught to do. The ‘boys’ went into the forest, one wanted to do dangerous things, the other was interested in his own healthy welfare. The struggle continued until there was a resolution - which was not clearly presented. I wanted the boy to ‘fill in the blanks’. After this wonderful presentation I asked my client what he thought of the story. He responded with great enthusiasm, "It was wonderful. I was the tree....". So much for great plans...

I have learned to be much more modest about my skills and more appreciative of my clients independence and strengths. Today I am much less serious (see the article on humor), and much more flexible in choosing stories. When they don’t work I just try again.

How do I know if they work? Two very simple criteria: the first is when the client ‘stops to think about what was just said’. The second is when the client ‘spontaneously’ remembers something else important after story.

Probably the greatest inhibition to telling stories is our own fear of failing. Surrendering to this fear does disservice to ourselves, our clients and the stories that are waiting to be told.

REBBE BARUCH OF MEDZEBOZH

Someone wanted to show the rebbe (the communal religious leader) up in public. He asked people what the rebbe prided himself in knowing. He was told the Zohar (the holy book written by HaArizal) was at the heart of the rebbes understanding of Torah. So he studied and studied until he was totally proficient in the subject and had found a hidden and most difficult question. He then, and only then, traveled to see the rebbe. He entered the rebbes' study only to find the him looking at the very page from which his question was taken. Deeply disappointed he wanted to say something but the rebbe told him not to speak. "What makes you madder, the fact that you can not stump me, or that I made you study so much Zohar?"

As a rule I do not interpret stories. I let the client do the real work. I will keep the rule.....

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