Problems are easy to point out. No genius there. Do you have a solution? That’s where the genius is. Practice being a source for solutions, for uplifting and for light. Look forward as to how it should be done, not backward as to how it was done.
Anyone who looks at what needs to be done is young; whoever looks back at what he did will always be old.
Let me ask you a question: How successful are you when you criticize other people? How often do people actually take what you’re saying and listen to what you’re saying and follow through?
If you’re like me, you are wildly unsuccessful with criticism. Meaning, that most people don’t really want to hear your criticism. And here is one of the reasons why. Being critical is easy. You see something wrong, which almost everyone sees, you point out the obvious, you show what is wrong with the situation, which the person probably knows on their own, you are problem oriented. It takes no genius to point out and be critical. And the very fact that that is the extent of what we are willing to offer the other person is an indication that we are more concerned about our own self‑righteousness than the problem.
Why do I say that? I say that because if we really cared about the other person, we wouldn’t be critical. You know what we would do? We would be solution oriented. We would actually extend ourselves a little further and ask ourselves, okay, well, that’s what they did wrong, how could they have done this better? And then, instead of telling them that they did something wrong, we could have said, perhaps you can do this in a better way next time. That requires a little creativity, a little thought. Well, that’s what they did wrong, how can this be done right. And you will notice that whenever you offer a better way instead of pointing out the problem with how they did it, your words will be much better received.
Instead of us saying, stop doing that, we should say, start doing this. Instead of saying, what were you thinking, we can start saying, did you ever think of, because then we are showing them the light instead of focusing on the darkness. It’s a matter of how we see our role in this world. Is our mission to highlight the negative or is our mission to reveal the positive? Is our mission to show how things are down or is our mission to raise things up? Is our mission to be a source of light and inspiration to others or is our mission not to lead the way for others, just to point out what already is.
We have to focus less on why we are not getting the results that we want and we have to focus more on how to get the results that we want. So instead of focusing on the why, which there’s a strong likelihood that the other person already knows, there is not a strong likelihood that they know a better way, otherwise they would have taken the better way. And by saying, you know, there’s an even better way of doing this, you are shining the light, you are being a source of light, of inspiration. You are raising them up. You are doing something powerful. You are now a useful, productive resource for the other person.
Very often people come to me as a Rabbi, as a community leader, and tell me what the problem is. And I’ve shared with many people that I do not want you to share a problem unless you’ve at least tried to come up with a solution. And that produces a much more effective conversation because 98 percent of the problems that people raise with me I am aware of. I want you to be a part of the solution, not just dump problems at my feet. And that’s what we all want, stop revealing the problem, start becoming a part of the solution.
There is a, something called the Pygmalion effect, which is the outcome of some fascinating research. And that is that when we look at another person and we bring out their potential by showing them how much we believe in them, generally speaking people live up to that potential. Here is a fascinating study that was done with 44 7th grade students who were asked to write an essay about their personal hero. After all the papers were collected, the teacher split the essays into two categories. He critiqued, you know, all of the essays, he wrote his comments on all of the essays, but in one group of essays he wrote, I’m giving you these comments that you’ll have feedback on your paper. Basically, I’m pointing out the issues with your paper. Point blank, that’s it, end of story.
On the second pile he wrote, I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them. Basically, saying, that I’m showing you a better way you can write this because I know you’re so capable. After the papers were returned, the students were told that they have the option of revising their papers and re‑submitting them for a better grade.
Here is what’s fascinating. Only 40 percent of the students who got the generic comment that I’m giving you these comments that you’ll have feedback on your paper, only 40 percent of them actually re‑worked their paper and gave it back in. An entire 80 percent, double, 80 percent of the students who got the comment, I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them, revised their papers. Meaning, when they were shown that the teacher believes in them and that they can do better and my critique is not criticizing what you wrote but showing you a better way, 80 percent of them initiated revising their paper.
Not only that, the changes that the 80 percent made were twice as many as the changes that the 40 percent made, clearly demonstrating that when we show people the light, they will embrace it. When we show people the dark, much fewer of them will embrace it.
There’s a fascinating story with an individual who was a member of the Senate of Canada for 25 years by the name of Jerry Grafstein. He was a very introspective person and every time that he celebrated a decade in his life, 30, 40, 50, he would become very introspective and look back and say, what am I accomplishing? I need to do more. Am I living up to my purpose? And when he hit 50 years old, he fell into a depression. And his wife suggested to him that he speak to the ‑‑ one of the leading Rabbis of world Jewry, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. And so he went into New York and he met with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. And he did not raise what was bothering him but the Rebbe saw that something was bothering him and he said, I see something is bothering you, what’s bothering you? And he said, you know, I’m turning 50 and I just feel like I’m not accomplishing a lot with my life. And the Rebbe asked him a question, he said, Do you know who the greatest leader in Jewish history was? And the man was, Jerry was very excited to know the answer. And he said Moses. And the Rebbe says, Correct. And do you know when he became the leader of the Jewish people, at what age? Jerry did not know the answer to this question and the Rebbe told him he became the leader of the Jewish people at the age of 80. And he said, You know why Moses was a great leader? Because he never looked back, he always looked ahead to what else needed to be done. Anyone who looks at what needs to be done is young; whoever looks back at what he did will always be old.
Fascinating, fascinating point. And it takes us to the very same point. When we focus on being constructive, what can be done, how can it be done, then we are bringing more light into the world. The moment we are looking at how things were done and how they were not done the way they should be done, then we are focusing on the darkness.
In your personal life, what do you focus on about your own life? You are bringing more light into your life if you focus on the future and not on the past. And you will be an illumination, a beacon of light to those around you if you practice that not only for yourself but for all of those in your life as well.