("Let's table the discussion" is a new Adath Israel Shul initiative where a story or thought is presented in order to stimulate exciting and constructive discussion around our Shabbos table or among friends and children.)
World renowned psychologist Tal Ben Shahar tells of the time that he went to a dinner party. The conversation meandered from affairs of the heart to current political affairs, from food and cooking to sports and literature. At a certain point, conversation turned to books that influenced the guests. Ben Shahar spoke about work “Built to Last” which highlighted visionary companies, organizations that have a significant impact on our world through their strong values and strong culture. He mentioned Walt Disney as an example of a visionary leader who made a considerable contribution to society.
“But I heard that he was mean to his employees,” said his hostess as she interrupted him.
Ben Shahar noted that the “Yes, but” phenomenon had struck again.
When people talk about things that can inspire them, whether it be regular people like Bill Gates (“I know of his brilliant business skills but he thwarted competition”) or Abraham Lincoln (“yes he freed the slaves but he certainly didn’t know how to dress or even conduct himself socially”), great experiences (“The year in Israel is a wonderful life experience but why does it have to have such fanaticism?”) (“My Yom Tov experience was wonderful true, but I would have preferred to sit elsewhere in shul so I could hear the Chazzan better”) or even great ideas (“That speech/Dvar Torah, Symposium/speaker was great but I only wish s/he had told the joke my way”) – people have a tendency of dismissing a positive with an offhand remark, unwilling to accept that good can exist and have impact on our lives, without its perfection.
Rav Joseph Soloveitchik ztl in a famous shiur about Parshas BeHaalosecha notes that the turning point of the Parsha comes when the people allow themselves to veer from the focus on their mission – to move as the Torah did and in the way of the Torah (hence the upside-down Nuns in the parsha). But in a certain sense, what derailed them at that point, was a desire, for symbiotic physical and spiritual perfection -- where every desire in their lives was handled perfectly -- which did not exist for them. Once their lives were great "yes, but.." they allowed the "but" to overshadow their experience, cloud their judgements and alter their course in an extremely damaging way.
Whether we choose to focus on positive or negative determines what we see in others and ourselves. A person who chooses to focus on the negative – on that which is missing in his or her life – sees “void” as the active force in the world and “good” as a passive force – the absence of a void. A person who can train himself or herself to have a positive view – will allow “good” to be the creative force in reality and “lack or void” as an absence of good. The difference of course, is an ability to appreciate in-between stages, and enjoy life in the process –not just at the end.
Where are YOU using the “yes, but” barometer in your life? How is it impacting the quality of your life? What price do you pay for this model of living? What benefit are you afforded in the process?
What about our children? Do we want them to look to us and the world we provide for them and think “Yes, but...”? How might we educate THEM to think and evaluate this world?
Let’s “table” the discussion – by discussing it with our children, spouses, families and guests and open an exciting discussion into our homes and community.