Dear Readers,

The other day, my husband and I had a visitor. He was loud and boisterous, making inappropriate jokes. He made his presence felt in an unpleasant way.

Even though I was trying not to judge, my impression of this individual was not positive. In the back of my mind, I was disapproving. Why does he talk so flamboyantly? Does he need to act so audaciously? Doesn’t he realize that his comments are so inappropriate? And look at his garish clothes!

It wasn’t until several days later that my husband learned something about him. “Did you know that he has a child with special needs who is severely disabled that he cares for?” he asked me. Of course, I had no idea.

I then understood that his “boisterous” manner was his way of coping with his challenge. His jokes and his comments were his way of staying above the darkness that was his reality by keeping a positive and joyous mindset.

Suddenly, my perspective was turned on its head. This man wasn’t the one who needed judging—it was me, for judging him!

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the tower, which was built in Babel to rebel against G‑d.

G‑d descended to see the city and the tower, which the sons of man had built (Gen. 11:5).

Rashi explains: Obviously, G‑d did not need to “come down” in order to see their crime; but He wished to teach all future judges not to judge a defendant until they see [the case] and understand it.

As parents, educators, friends or colleagues, there are times that we need to intervene and share our negative feedback. But before doing so, we need to “come down” from our condescending positions to see the individual’s reality. We need to acknowledge, too, that rarely, can we fully understand the other person’s circumstances.

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves before judging or criticizing:

  • What am I trying to accomplish with my words?
  • Am I having a bad day, and is this is my way of getting it off my chest? Should I revisit this issue once I’m feeling more positive?
  • Do I want something specific changed or improved? Will my words accomplish that or will they simply alienate?
  • Do I have a close enough relationship to broach this topic?
  • Do I understand and feel empathetic for what this person is going through? Am I talking down to or relating to his perspective?
  • Are my words biting? Can I reword my criticism so that it is feedback rather than condemnation?
  • How can I strategize with this individual not only to focus on what’s wrong, but to accentuate the results that we would like to see?

Feel free to add any additional questions in the comment section below.

Our words and even our thoughts carry a tremendous amount of energy; if we have some forethought, they can be so positive.

Chana Weisberg
Editor, TJW