Focusing on the Positive

People want black and
white situations. They want things to be totally positive or totally negative,
and tend to see things like that. But every situation is a mixture. It has
negative features and positive features. Its important to see both, because in
order to deal with a situation realistically we have to be critical as well as
accepting, but people are far more inclined to see the negative than they are to
see the positive. So we have to make a special effort to identify the positive
and focus on it without forgetting the negative features which must be taken
into consideration so that we can correct them or, if necessary, find a way to
live with them.

Some people have tunnel vision. They only see part of a
picture, a fraction of the reality that confronts them. Bilaam, who had only one
eye, is a classical example of this. Bilaam is riding on his donkey. It goes off
the path once, twice, three times. Finally, Bilaam gets hurt. He beats the
donkey and the donkey starts to talk: “What’s going on over here? What did I
ever do to you …I’m you’re donkey. You’ve been riding on me for years.
Did I ever do anything like this to you before?” Bilaam responds: “If I had
a sword I’d kill you now.” Now, this donkey had served Bilaam faithfully for
many years. One day the donkey did something that wasn’t good: Bilaam got
hurt, for whatever reason. All of a sudden, all those years of trustworthy
service are down the drain, as though they never happened. Bilaam was willing to
kill him on the spot. The donkey says, look at the total picture. You’ve been
riding on me for years. If I did something wrong one time, you can have a little
rachmanus. Don’t negate everything I did for you all these years just
because something went wrong today. That’s how people our. Even a best friend
for years can turn cold just because one time, for whatever reason, he feels
offended. He forgets years of friendship. That last, single negative item is the
only one that figures on what should be a long list of good times together. We
see this in others and we can see it in ourselves.

The Torah tells us to throw a trefah to the dogs. One
of the Baalei Hatosofos learns mussar from this. He explains that usually the
dog protects the sheep. What happened here is that he didn’t do his job. He
let an animal get to the flock and kill one of the sheep. What should the
shepherd do? If anything, it seems that he should punish the dog. But what does
the Torah say? Give him the sheep that was killed—the sheep that was killed
because he didn’t do his job! Why? Because this dog has been trustworthy
servant, guarding the sheep day and night, in heat and in cold. One time an
animal got through. Don’t hold it against the dog that he failed this one
time. Remember all the good he did for you and throw him this sheep. It that’s
how we have to relate to a dog, then that’s certainly how we have to relate to
people. Old friends and even couples that have been married a long time, can
have a terrible falling out because of one indiscretion, one thoughtless moment,
one oversight! Years of good times together and years of devotion can be
forgotten because one day something went wrong. Don’t forget all the good
times because of one bad time! On the contrary, instead of holding it against a
person, use it as an occasion for remembering the good times and focus on them.
Don’t let that one bad thing wipe out everything else.

Everyone should be given the benefit of the doubt. If you
look at a person in a way that does not relate to the whole person, in a way
that fractures him into positive and negative features, you’ll find that the
negative has a way of calling attention to itself. But when you look at the
whole person, the positive comes through with a strength that can push the
negative out of the limelight. You can only be positive if you are willing to
look at the whole thing: the whole person, everything that happened in the past,
all of his qualities. If you zero in on one thing, one time, one event, you’ll
have a much harder time avoiding the negative.

There’s a Seforno at the beginning of Parshas Shlach that
brings out this idea. G-d says to Moshe Rabbeinu, I don’t want to pick the
spies. I want you to pick them—good people. Of course, these good people that
Moshe Rabbeinu picked turned out to be not so good, but the Seforno points out
something good about them. These people at least came back and said the truth
about the Land of Israel: they said that it was a good land. They could have
lied and said that it was not good. This shows the stature of the men Moshe
selected. It takes a great person to see the positive inspite of his negative

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