D’var Torah: The Importance of Seeing the Other’s Point of View
My favorite novel remains To Kill a Mockingbird. I have read it over 30 times and my perspectives on it have changed greatly as I have aged from middle school to middle age. One of the themes that speaks to me is in this instruction from Atticus to his daughter Scout:
“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
– Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Atticus is describing empathy, and how it benefits everyone involved. In the Torah it says (Devarim 22:6-7):
If, along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go, and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life.
This suggests an effort to empathize with the mother bird, but the truth is, I doubt the bird really understands what is going on here. We don’t send away the bird for the bird’s sake. We send her away for our own sake. We should have compassion and act on our compassion. It is fine for us to take the eggs. It is how we take the eggs that matters.
I think that we rush to judge others a lot. I know I do. We often don’t consider the other person’s feelings or perspectives.
We need to take a moment and consider this. We actually need to be curious about what is going on. Maybe the other person has a point? Maybe they are right? Maybe we have assumed the worst?
I also like the old movie Harvey, which stars Jimmy Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd, a man with an invisible six-foot tall rabbit friend. While Elmer was eccentric and some thought that he was crazy, he was unfailingly kind. I’ll never forget this line: “My mother told me, I could be ever so smart or ever so pleasant. I tried smart; I prefer pleasant.”
In many ways, smart can mean I am right or know better. But what does that actually get me?
Being pleasant accomplishes more.
One of the biggest lessons we learn at camp is the importance of considering other people’s perspectives, walking in their shoes, finding ways to be pleasant, doing our best to show compassion, and assuming the best about one another.
If we do these things, we will open ourselves up to happiness, new friends and new opportunities. In that way, we can fare well and merit a long life. Shabbat Shalom.