As a rule, people do not do anything that they believe to be wrong. Those who do wrong have somehow convinced themselves that what they are doing is in fact right. They justify themselves with ingenious rationalizations.
If we are so susceptible to our minds playing tricks on us and deluding us that what is wrong is right, what can we do to prevent improper behavior? Solomon provides the answer: Direct your actions toward God, and your thoughts will be right (Proverbs 16:3).
The distortion is greatest when the motivation is, “What do I want?” If we remove ourselves from the picture and instead ask, “What does God want?” the possibility of distortion shrinks.
While there is less distortion in the latter case, we cannot say that distortion is completely absent. Some people have strange ideas about what God wants. However, if we take ourselves out of the picture and are motivated to do what God wants, there is greater likelihood that we might consult someone in a position to give us an authoritative opinion as to the will of God. While this is not foolproof, there is at least a chance of escaping the distortions of rationalization that are dominant when one seeks to satisfy primarily oneself.
Today I shall…
try to dedicate myself to doing the will of God, and try to learn what His will is by studying the Torah and accepting guidance from Torah authorities.
-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 4”
The Almighty loves those who constantly find merit in others.
Right now, think of someone you have been critical of. Now find something meritorious about that person.
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #671, Find Merit in Others”
It’s not easy to find merit in some people, particularly when we perceive that their primary character traits and behavior are particularly “unmeritorious.” The recent tragedy in Connecticut has mobilized a great deal of emotion in our nation, and as a people, we are divided as to how we should respond. There have been many comments on the web over the past several days where it is obvious that people are not trying to discover merit in their “opponents.”
On the other hand, I saw a quote on Facebook attributed to Fred Rogers (yeah, that Mister Rogers).
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
That seems more like trying to find people who are already meritorious in a difficult situation rather than finding merit in a person who may be a “difficult” individual, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.
What about finding merit within ourselves? According to Rabbi Twerski, that could lead us to self-deception, since we all have a tendency to justify our behavior, spinning it toward being good and not finding fault with ourselves. The Rabbi’s answer is to first seek God’s will in all things rather than our own, which is a point I tried to make in yesterday’s morning meditation.
Seeking God’s will and God’s standard for doing good helps us avoid self-deception, but as Rabbi Twerski pointed out, we still must be careful. Many, many religious people believe they have sought out and successfully received the will of God, and then proceed to justify the most evil and hurtful actions based on their “sketchy” understanding of what God wants (and who could possibly call themselves a child of God and yet take advantage of the extreme grief of others for their own personal or organizational benefit?).
I guess those last few sentences weren’t exactly reflective of looking for merit in others. See how hard it can be sometimes?
I agree with Mister Rogers’ mother that even in the darkest place, we should look for the light that is shining from the helpers. If we can’t find it, then I think we’re obligated to be the helper and to shine with a light for others to see.
Never forget that your true place is a place of light. Even when you find yourself in the midst of darkness and sorrow, know that this is not your home.
Where is your home? Where does your true self live?
It lives absorbed within the very origin of light. From there, a glimmer of itself escapes and splashes below.
All it takes is that glimmer to transform the darkness, that it too should shine.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
I admire Rabbi Pliskin in his ability to seek out the merit of others, particularly those “difficult” people and groups who exist in our world. While I believe his advice is sound, there are just some folks I will always struggle with because what is most obvious about them is also extremely hateful or at least “challenging.” If I can’t always see past the problem to get to that glimmer of merit that is possessed by another, may I look to God and ask that I exhibit some small piece of Him in myself that can be an inspiration instead.