And, even when the other person says or does something against him, he must search for the good, or accept that the other harbored no evil intentions against him.
—Kitzur Likutey Moharan, Lesson 33
We all have the occasional rocky relationship. But if we seem to be constantly dogged by difficult people, it may be time to turn inwards.
Relationships can be our most faithful teachers and can reveal to us our authentic self. They do this by being our mirrors—in the reflection of contentious relationships we are able to see our own inner conflicts.
Warning: Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear.
On the most basic level, when we look into the face of our friends and colleagues, we see ourselves.
But what about that annoying snob who always makes me feel “this” big? I might be nurturing my own cherished snobbery, the one crouching behind a defense mechanism or two.
What about that person who always insults me? I might put people down too, if only in my mind, and I might have a hard time recognizing this because I feel it is so justified—after all, the people I put down, deserve to be put down. Right?
What about the person who is always angry? Am I angry or passive-aggressive or irritated? I might even provoke anger in order that someone else becomes my surrogate tantrummer, having the outburst for me.
Sometimes, the Rebbe tells us, we truly want to live peaceably with everyone but we find ourselves forced into conflicts.
The same happens between nations. One nation may want peace and is willing to make many concessions in order to achieve it. Yet it finds itself dragged into other nations’ disputes, with each of the opposing sides demanding its allegiance until it is drawn into war against its will.
The same is true in household wars. Man is a miniature world containing the entire world and everything in it. A man and his family contain the nations of the world and all their wars and strife.
For this reason someone living alone can go out of his mind. This is because all the warring nations are contained within him. Each one attacks the other, and his personality keeps changing depending on which of the nations within him prevails. Swinging from one extreme to another can drive him insane. But when a person lives with others, these battles are played out among the different members of the household, or between neighbors and friends and so on.
Sichos HaRan (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom by Aryeh Kaplan, BRI)
Today many people think it’s easier to live alone. They reject marriage and family. They eat a salad or a bag of cookies for dinner. No one argues with them about how they spend their time. The remote is theirs and theirs alone. They can spend their money on anything they desire. They can eat chocolate-covered pretzels in bed. No one ever yells at them. No one else leaves damp socks on the floor. No one interrupts their train of thought.
But living alone can be like living in the middle of a battlefield, one laden with land mines. The stressful situations that occur when we interact with others might possibly act as safety-valves, which prevent us from imploding.
So how do we deal with difficult people, whether we are truly flawless and blameless, or not? (Ahem.)
Look at their good points. Everyone has good points. Look for them. Look hard.
Once you’ve spotted a lurking good point, name it. Repeat it quietly to yourself.
Perhaps say them aloud, to the other person, if possible.
Remind yourself you are looking in a mirror, and really LOOK.
What do you see?