Cultivating an Ayin Tov — Looking for the Good in Others

Q: Like the writer of a recent query in your column, I too have a daughter who is isolating herself from her classmates. The issue differs in that she is finding the superficiality within peer relationships quite disheartening. She is not fearful of others rejecting her or finding fault with her home situation; she is confused about the nature of peer loyalty and proper communication or lack thereof.

This 15-year-old used to be quite popular with her peers and we would often have girls calling and coming over to our house. Recently, she has begun to find fault with many of her classmates and has found reasons not to be friendly with them. She speaks of peer altercations that begin with miscommunication: One girl says something, another takes it the wrong way — and before long, a “cold war” is being waged in the class. Often, nobody remembers the source of the misunderstanding or understands how it snowballed into a group machlokes. She feels that it is better to separate herself from these friends than to be constantly disappointed by them.

I have tried to stress to her the need to be tolerant of others. Yet, in truth, I understand her feelings, as so much of what she is saying is applicable to my own peer group, as well.

I too have difficulty maintaining certain complicated relationships; I too do not know how some friendships have gone sour. Certain people can be insulted by or jealous of the most inconsequential things, which never actually get discussed. And yet, I can see how my lack of tolerance towards this distant and annoying behavior of others can easily lead to sinas chinam.

Teaching my daughter to be more tolerant sounds good on paper, but in order to guide her, I need to make it a reality in my own life as well.

A: Your letter deals with two different aspects of appropriate hashkafos which need to be incorporated into our daily lives. We all need to look for the good in others, to cultivate an ayin tov, instead of concentrating on what the other person is lacking. Focusing on another’s shortcomings may be no more than an effort to elevate ourselves, because lowering someone’s value in our eyes causes us to immediately feel superior, by contrast.

Are we becoming guarded and mistrustful, avoiding vulnerability in interpersonal relationships? You mentioned that your daughter does not want to be disappointed by others. Being in a human relationship automatically makes us vulnerable and often disappointed in another’s human imperfections. What your daughter may be trying to avoid may be inevitable. Yet again, if Hashem wanted human beings to have perfect middos, our daily nisyonos would be totally different. This is our avodas Hashem: to give others the benefit of the doubt, to be “mevater,” to continually go above our human nature. The job of finding an appropriate loyal friend does take work (“knei lecha chaver,” Pirkei Avos 1:6); it is an acquisition, but it is always worth the effort.

You also discuss relationships that seem to have degenerated due to sinas chinam. We can find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation, for example, in which someone may have disclosed too much personal information to us, and then regretted it. She then feels uncomfortable seeing us, and avoids eye contact. Or another may be embarrassed because a mutual friend listened to your advice rather than hers, and she, too, avoids eye contact. Such situations are common in life; as the years pass, we often do not even remember the reason for the estrangement which is causing continual sinas chinam.

A remedy is to go beyond the feelings of discomfort by being friendly — perhaps giving a sincere compliment to the person — as the initial bone of contention is clearly obscure, and probably forgotten, at this point. As is written in Mishlei 27, as we reflect positive feelings towards others, the reactions will return to us in kind.