Empower others

Pinchas, the Bible (Numbers chap 25) relates, was awarded with a Covenant of Peace took for taking unsolicited action in the face of a crisis. Moses, the rabbis say, forgot what to do in this instance, so Pinchas stepped forward and offered a solution. But who asked him for his opinion? Pinchas wasnt a leader and had no real business interfering. Yet rather than brushing him aside, he was recognised as a hero.

This wasnt the only time that Moses acted in this manner. When Eldad and Meidad started to prophesy in the camp, Joshua came rushing to Moses in outrage (Numbers 11:28): Who gave them permission? Who do they think they are? They should be severely dealt with, Joshua urged. But Moses reacted as a true leader. True leaders dont feel threatened by others. True leaders build up others. Moshe told Joshua to calm down. If only that all the people were prophets, said he. Dont worry about my honour, Moshe insisted. A true leader does not seek to create followers but to empower other leaders. Your words can lift someone or put him down, boost or deflate. The finest form of praise is not the compliment you offer someone, whether sincere or not, but the real value you attach to his or her opinion.

Telling a child she is clever is not nearly as meaningful as genuinely showing interest in what she has to say. Asking your colleague for an opinion goes much further in promoting his or her self-worth than saying a few nice words. When you turn to your husband in a fashion boutique and ask: "What do you think?" you are not just paying lip service. By taking counsel from your husband, even when you are doubtful of his fashion sense, you are showing, not just saying, that his opinion matters. The wife of the distinguished scholar, Rabbi Yechezkel Abramski (1886-1976) had befriended a recent widow. Once, the widow knocked on the door when the rabbi was present. He greeted her warmly. Holding up a recently purchased jacket, he asked the visitor: "This week someone bought this jacket for me, whats your opinion of it?" The rabbi then listened intently to her response. The lady went away elated that the rabbi had consulted her on his wardrobe. Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) said: "The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer." When we show respect to others, we empower others and help them to feel good about themselves. This is important also for young people, as they have opinions and feelings too. Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer (1870-1953) was asked by a friend to test his son on his schoolwork.

The boy gave the wrong answer. So the rabbi kindly explained the correct meaning and tried to steer the boy to the correct conclusion by asking him: "This is how I understood it, is this was you meant?" The boy repeated his incorrect interpretation. The rabbi kept trying to gently alert the young boy to the mistake he was making, but the boy held fast to his "version." By then, the rabbi and all those present were becoming increasingly irritated by the boys stubbornness. Whereupon Rabbi Meltzer left the room and began pacing the hallway, where he was heard repeating to himself, as if reciting a mantra: "Respect for others means children as well." Having said this to himself more than a dozen times, he returned to the boy and said sweetly: "So tell me again, what is your view on this matter?" Build people up; dont put them down.