“Lo Tisna Et Achichah B’Levavcha Hocheach Tochiach Et Amitecha V’Lo Tisa Alav Chet.”
“Do not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin against him.”
A few years ago, I got some feedback on a post I had made on Facebook. The feedback came privately from a woman who meant well. I will refer to this as Feedback F. Then, less than a year ago, I got some feedback on two different blog posts that I had shared to Facebook. The feedback came from two different women who meant well and it was about two different posts, but the feedback was the same. I will refer to this as Feedback A.
Feedback F was a colossal failure (that’s why I refer to it as F). I was furious and I almost had to cut that woman out of my contacts entirely. Feedback A (as in Grade A) was a bit hard to swallow but it worked wonders.
What was the difference? Validation.
In Parshat Kedoshim, which we are reading this coming Shabbat, we read about the mitzvah of “reprove your fellow,” meaning that we’re supposed to give feedback and help our fellow Jews get things right. But whenever I’ve learned this verse, the rabbis and teachers always emphasized that this has to be done only with extreme caution. If we try to give feedback to someone who isn’t open to it, we make things worse because they go from making a mistake to doing something wrong on purpose. We can never guarantee that anyone will be open to feedback unless the person asks for it but the best way to minimize the risk is to understand and validate the person’s perspective on the issue in question.
Feedback F was a failure because the woman refused to understand my perspective on the issue, let alone validate it. Her feedback came from a place of “you did something wrong and you need to correct it” with no consideration of my side of the story or my “not guilty” plea. If she had made that bit of effort to get my side of it, she would’ve stayed out of it completely knowing that there was no feedback for her to offer that could fix anything. Plus, because she didn’t even understand my perspective, the advice she did offer was either irrelevant and useless or outright offensive.
Feedback A worked because both times, it came from a place of “I get what you’re trying to do so here’s a suggestion on how to do it better.” That’s still hard to swallow because I’m only human and it’s hard to hear that I’m not getting it right all the time, but swallow it I did. And the feedback offered improved my writing a lot.
To me, it’s no surprise that the command to reprove is sandwiched between not hating our fellow Jews and not bearing a sin because of them. To me, not hating includes not immediately assuming wrongdoing. I’ve found that when I assume wrongdoing without understanding the other side of it, then at best, I make a fool of myself. At worst, I could alienate people, including the very people I’m trying to reach. But even the attitude that prompted Feedback A isn’t foolproof- not everyone is open to that. And I’ve learned- both from this and from my own mistakes- that in that case, the best way to go is to step back.
I’m very grateful for the lessons learned, but I’m even more grateful for the validation and understanding and I hope to pass those on to others.