|Life Lessons: Considering the Consequences|
|Written by The Heileger Chana Chaya|
In this time of examining our actions in preparation for the High Holy Days, I ask myself: How am I doing in the eyes of God? Does The Almighty find favor in what I do? Or do I get a frown? (God forbid!)
So, I wonder, what are the most important character traits in the eyes of My Creator?
A Story from Our Mishna: (Perkei Avot 2:13)
Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai told his five most distinguished disciples:
Go searching to discover: What is the most important character trait to live by?
They went out searching and returned with their answers:
Rabbi Eliezer said “a good, kindly eye.”
Rabbi Joshua said “a good friend.”
Rabbi Yose said “a good neighbor.”
Rabbi Elazer said “a good heart.”
Rabbi Shimon said “ha’roeh et ha’nolad.” That means one who considers the consequences. In Hebrew, the words “ha’roeh et ha’nolad” mean the one who sees what will be born. ie: one who sees the future.
Simply, I have to see ahead to consider the consequences of my actions.
But Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai was asking an ethical question, not one about intuitive abilities to see into the future. So how is it that seeing the future consequences of my actions (ha’nolad) is an important character trait? How does considering consequences make me find favor with God?
Where Are My Treats?
The year was the year 1966, a year when, unlike today, food allergies among children were rare. I was in charge of nine older girls’ bunks for a camp in the Catskills. One of the 11-year-old campers, Annette, suffered from food allergies. She had to be on a special diet, which meant that the candy, cookies, and other delights sold at the canteen, were off limits for her.
But Annette did not go without. After the morning activities one Monday, Annette got to the bunk and found a package on her bed. She excitedly ripped off the paper to open the box. Her smile seemed to cover her face as she discovered pink tissue paper wrapped around special homemade treats that her mom made just for her. Annette unwrapped one of the sweet, crunchy treats and ate it. She closed the box to save the rest for later, carefully placing it in the drawer at the bottom of her bunk bed.
After a long hike in the woods on Tuesday morning, Annette came back to her bunk, looking forward, with great anticipation, to eating another of her treats. She opened the drawer where had she left them.
“No! No!” she screamed. “Where are they? Where are my treats?”
They were gone!
Laurie, one of the bunk counselors, told me that yesterday afternoon, while the campers were preparing for swim, she saw Susie, a camper, sitting behind a tree, eating something from a box which contained pink tissue paper. She did not think much of it until she heard about the theft.
I asked her how she wanted to handle this. The camper was a member of her bunk.
There are many actions that Laurie could have taken. It was clear that Susie stole Annette’s treats. Stealing, of course, is not allowed in camp. Susie could now get sent home. She could be made to feel publically embarrassed. She could be reprimanded and forced to pay back Annette in some way. In choosing any of these consequences, Laurie would be absolutely right and justified, regardless of the consequences to Susie.
But Laurie’s wisdom was beyond her years, and beyond mine, at the time. Laurie thought about the consequences not only for Susie, but for Annette as well. What would it do to Susie to be labeled a thief and sent home? How would it help Annette to create an enemy in Susie? Laurie looked ahead to consider the effect of those actions. She saw the consequences to Susie and also to Annette.
She went to Annette.
“Annette, I know who took your treats. Before we do anything, would it be okay if we turned this into a learning?”
“That would be okay with me. But aren’t you going to punish her?” Annette responded.
“I don’t think so.” The counselor explained. “I think that punishing her will make her hate herself and hate you. I have an idea. Are you willing to try something else?”
Annette listened. “I want you to call your mom and ask her to send another box of treats. We can go to the office to make the call whenever you are ready.“
A few days later the treats arrived, wrapped in purple tissue paper, this time.
Laurie told Annette. “The person who stole your treats is sitting on the bench outside the canoe shack. Walk down there. Sit with her and share your treats with her.”
“But she stole from me! How could I give her something else?”
“I know, Annette. Just try it. See how it goes. “
An hour later, I saw Annette and Susie yakking away as they hiked back up the hill together. I heard Susie trying to convince Annette to take her treasured Chatty Cathy doll to make up for what she did … and Annette was telling her that a few old treats weren’t that important anyway.
In retrospect, I can see so clearly “ha’roeh et ha’nolad” in action. I realize, that had I unilaterally decided to kick Susie out of camp, there would have been great consequences. Even though I would be doing the logical, right thing, it would have meant not considering the negative consequences to Susie and to her family. It would have meant also not seeing what it would do to Annette, to her family, to the children in her bunk, and even to the camp as a whole.
“Ha’roeh et ha’nolad” means that it is my responsibility to be aware of the negative consequences to another person. It means that I must consider other alternatives, just as the bunk counselor, Laurie, was so wise to do.
How true is this for our schools, as well as our camps, where our children spend the majority of their day? Are there alternatives for a child who can’t sit in his seat the whole day? Are there other options for the child who can’t just “listen” to the whole lesson? Are there better approaches for the child who makes us so angry that we act-out ourselves? When a child gets kicked out of the room, or insulted, or punished, who is being the impulsive one - us or the child? Of course we are right. But in being so “right,” do we really look at the consequences?
Of course, we aspire to create good feelings, good energy, and wonderful memories. But how often does it happen that we are the impulsive ones who don’t look ahead at the negative consequences of our actions to that person? To understand “ha’roeh et ha’nolad” as our sages recommend, would perhaps make us pick our brain to find more creative, effective ways to deal with the situations. Do we look at how what we do today will affect that child for years to come?
I can’t count how many adults I treat in my practice who still suffer from the stress of how they were treated as children. Everything we say…. Everything we do to a child … with a child … has permanent consequences. Adults live forever with what happened to them when they were children. Many illnesses begin there and take effect as the child grows into an adult.
This story is about children. In children, consequences of how they are treated are often clear. They have not yet learned to mask their feelings, as we do, nor to mask the effect of what happens to them. But this lesson is not exclusively for how we treat our children. The teaching of ha”roeh et ha’nolad, applies to how we treat all people.
Even doing the right thing, without intending to, and often without realizing, can still create negative consequences. What if Susie did not learn her lesson and stole again? I might have had to send her home. In that case ha’roeh et ha’nolad would mean having great sensitivity to what she and all involved would be going through. I would have to try to do what I can to alleviate the effect, perhaps even in finding another place for her to be for the rest of the summer, and in working with her parents… etc. So, even if what I do is right, I still have a responsibility to diminish the negative effect.
In the eyes of the Almighty, how are we doing in considering the consequences of our actions to another person? In the eyes of our children, the eyes of our family, the eyes of our friends, and even the eyes of our enemies… How are we doing?????
Thank you to Rosh HaYeshiva HaRav Yochanan Zweig whose recording on Tisha b’av taught me about ha’roeh et ha’nolad and demonstrated that, once again, our Torah writings contain the deepest wisdom, life lessons, and the answers to all things.
Copyright ©2011 Chana Klein