Sunday, March 30, 2014

Metzorah 74- Miserliness and Speaking Badly about Others

James Ferrel from  The Arbinger institute ,in his highly recommended TedX Talk – Resolving the Heart of Conflict  –and  Article  explains why we value problems above solutions, conflict above peace, reconciliation and  cooperation, and how to remedy the situation.

His talk also gives us an insight into one of the questions on this week's parasha-portion – Metzorah. The disease Tza'raat became progressively worse if the person did not repent from speaking badly – la'shon Ha'ra about other people. First, his home was afflicted in a supernatural way with spots and marks, and  then if he continued to sin – his clothes and then his body was afflicted. The difficulty is that his home was afflicted, not because of  him speaking badly – la'shon ha'ra but because of his Tzarut A'yin = miserliness. This is implied from the verse Leviticus 14:35 . The owner of the house is referred to as the  one to whom the house belonged – that the house was only HIS , he did not open his home up to others or lend out utensils to neighbors who needed them. What is the connection between miserliness and speaking badly about others ?

In a nutshell – James Ferrel explains that when we objectify people, or we don't share our resources with them - for example by not opening up our homes or our hearts to them , we need to justify our actions and  view of these people as being undeserving.This triggers our looking for plenty of negativity about them and sharing it with others. This inner need for justification is so strong that it overrides the need for peace and better interpersonal relationships.

In the talk he claims that we actually value problems, mistreatment, trouble, and conflict. He explains that according to Martin Buber, we don't have problems with people whom we count or identify with. We see their humanity and that they  - 'are made in God's image'. The others who don't count in our eyes are viewed as objects. It is easier to view or treat people badly if you ' objectify ' them. But objectifying people comes with a consequence – a deep inner need to justify that view. So the heart sees advantage in trouble and conflict, it provides the proof and justification that we are looking for. People then begin to value problems above solutions, conflict above peace and cooperation.

The way out of this trap is to see the humanity of others -and that they are made in God's image. In an article – James Ferrel writes about company executives, employees and representatives of the unions who spent some time in a holiday resort trying to see how they could cooperate much more efficiently. At the end of the 3 days, they attempted to resolve disputes which had been around for more than a year and that were scheduled for arbitration. 'They resolved the disputes in forty minutes , because – during the first 2 days together they solved the heart of the conflict that had been dividing them, which was the mutual objectification and blame for each other. Until they saw their conflict partners as people, with hopes, dreams, cares and fears as real as their own, they needed justification more than they needed resolution and were both unwilling and unable to find creative, mutually beneficial possibilities. They found too much advantage in problems to be able to find lasting solutions.' – James Ferrel.

We can now more easily appreciate how the Collaborative problem solving approach's mantra –' children do well if they can , and not children do well if they want to'- can apply to adults as well - , enables us to see their humanity , act with more compassion and instead of making problems worse than they are , make things better for all.

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