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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Vayeira. The Influence of Environment - סביבה

Lot learned the importance of hospitality from Avraham Avinu, and absorbed the lesson to the extent that he endangered his family in order to shelter the travelers.  He is described as categorically rejecting the influence of Avraham Avinu- he said,  אי אפשי לא באברם ולא באלוקיו- I want nothing to do with Avram or with is God.  Despite this antipathy to what his uncle represented, Avraham Avinu did influence him.  Once he settled in Sedom, his spiritual fall accelerated, but some things that he learned from Avraham remained strong within him.

And it was not that Avraham gave a shiur in Hachnasas Orchim.  Rashi says (19:1)
 "וירא לוט וגו'" - מבית אברהם למד לחזור על האורחים -He learned from the house of Avraham to seek out guests.  It says that he learned this from the Beis Avraham, from the house of Avraham, not from any classroom lessons or discussions with his uncle.  He learned his lesson from being in the household of Avraham, from seeing what Avraham did, from seeing Avraham's pursuit of the well being of guests, from seeing the warmth and friendship that Avraham displayed to his guests.  Perhaps he learned the lesson from the "house" itself- because the house of Avraham was built to be welcoming from all sides, with open doors that would beckon passers by.  Whatever it was, it was not a formal transmission of a value- it was something he absorbed because he had been a member of Avraham Avinu's household.

Rambam in 6 Deios 1-

דרך ברייתו של אדם להיות נמשך בדעותיו ובמעשיו אחר ריעיו וחביריו ונוהג כמנהג אנשי מדינתו. לפיכך צריך אדם להתחבר לצדיקים ולישב אצל החכמים תמיד כדי שילמוד ממעשיהם. ויתרחק מן הרשעים ההולכים בחשך כדי שלא ילמוד ממעשיהם. הוא ששלמה אומר הולך את חכמים יחכם ורועה כסילים ירוע. ואומר אשרי האיש וגו'. וכן אם היה במדינה שמנהגותיה רעים ואין אנשיה הולכים בדרך ישרה ילך למקום שאנשיה צדיקים ונוהגים בדרך טובים. ואם היו כל המדינות שהוא יודעם ושומע שמועתן נוהגים בדרך לא טובה כמו זמנינו. או שאינו יכול ללכת למדינה שמנהגותיה טובים מפני הגייסות או מפני החולי ישב לבדו יחידי כענין שנאמר ישב בדד וידום. ואם היו רעים וחטאים שאין מניחים אותו לישב במדינה אלא אם כן נתערב עמהן ונוהג במנהגם הרע יצא למערות ולחוחים ולמדברות, ואל ינהיג עצמו בדרך חטאים כענין שנאמר מי יתנני במדבר מלון אורחים:

The Rambam says that it is inherent in the human condition to be influenced by friends, associates, and society as a whole, so it is vital to dwell in a place with moral standards that are consistent with your aspirations  If the only place you find is one of wicked people, then you have to move out to the desert.

The Rambam doesn't say that if you find yourself living in a community where the moral and spiritual standards are low that you should man up and show some discipline.  The Rambam's Rational Man should not be affected by the proximity of fools and sinners!  But that's not what the Rambam says.  That isn't even an option.  Get up and get out of there.  Go be a hermit in the desert.  There is no alternative.  If you stay, you can not escape the negative influence of your environment.

I heard in the name of  Rav Matisyahu Solomon that although the Rambam says there it is impossible to stay in an environment and escape being influenced, there is one hint in the beginning of the Rambam of a possible counterweight.  The Rambam says להיות נמשך בדעותיו ובמעשיו אחר ריעיו וחביריו ונוהג כמנהג אנשי מדינתו, a person is drawn by his friends and associates, and acts like the  people of his community.  All the Rambam had to say was that a person acts like the others in his community, which obviously includes friends and associates.  The implication is that the primary influence is that of friends and associates.  If a person consciously and carefully limits his personal and work relationships to people that deserve his respect, their positive influence might outweigh the negative influence of the community at large.

On the topic of being influenced by your environment, I saw a new perspective from Reb Yakov Kaminetsky on the Mishna in Avos 1:6 that I enjoyed.

The mishna says
יהושע בן פרחיי אומר עשה לך רב וקנה לך חבר והוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות.

First, Reb Yakov says that if you are harsh and unforgiving in your assessment of other men, you'll never find a Rebbi you will respect, because even a Rebbi is a human being, not an angel.
כיון שכלל גדול הוא שאין אדם צדיק בארץ אשר יעשה טוב ולא יחטא. א״כ אם אינו רגיל הוא לדון אנשים לכף זכות, אז אף פעם לא יצליח לעשות לעצמו רב ולא לקנות לו חבר, כי בכל אדם ימצא מום פלוני או פגם אלמוני, ורק מי שדן את האדם — היינו כפי שאיתא בזוהר שת״ח נקרא אדם וע״ה לא נקרא אדם — לכף זכות, הוא יכול למצוא לעצמו רב או חבר.

Then he says something that relates to our discussion:
יש ענין נוסף בהוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות. כי הנה זה ברור, וכבר ייסד את זה הרמב״ם בפ״ו מהלכות דעות הל ״א — שדרך ברייתו של אדם להיות נמשך בדעותיו ובמעשיו אחר ריעיו וחביריו ונוהג כמנהג אנשי מדינתו וכר, וכל אדם מושפע מסביבתו, ומה״ט פסק שם הרמב״ם שתמיד צריך האדם להתחבר לצדיקים ולחכמים, ולכן אם הרואה מעשה של חבירו דנו
 לכף חובה — בהכרח שגם הוא יהי׳ מושפע ממנו, ולהיפך אם ידונו לכף זכות — יהי׳ הוא מושפע ממנו לטובה, ולכן
 תמיד צריך לדון כל אדם לכף זכות, ודו״ק.

If you judge your fellows to the good, then if you see them doing something that might seem to be sinful but you interpret it as really being a good thing, then you will be influenced by what you see to the better.  If you judge him negatively, then you will be influenced to your detriment.

According to his pshat, Yehoshua ben Prachya's advice relates to Nitai Ha'Arbeli's in the next Mishna- ניתאי הארבלי אומר, הרחק משכן רע, ואל תתחבר לרשע.

My Mashgia'ch, Reb Dovid Kronglass, once said that every character trait that lays in our souls can be used in the service of the Ribono shel Olam.  He said that he wondered, how can a person use the midda of saying a "krummeh svara," of saying absurd things, in the service of God?  (I've heard this said in the name of Reb Chaim, on Tipshus.  Same idea.)  He decided that it is only by recruiting the trait of Krumkeit can one fulfill that Mishna in Avos.  When you see a person doing a bad thing, you know that he's a Rasha and a sheigitz.  So how can you possibly judge him favorably, how can you be Dan l'kaf zechus that there's some innocent explanation for that person's behavior?  The answer is that you have to enlist the midda of krumkeit, so you can make up some absurd explanation for the behavior that would recast it in a positive light.

Those are the words of one of the great baalei mussar of the Mirrer Yeshiva who had to deal with American boys, and they may seem cynical.  But assuming that dan lekaf zechus is often delusional, you can use that delusion to improve your environment.  Whenever you see people doing bad things, make up an explanation that would justify what they're doing, and so you won't be negatively influenced from observing bad behavior.  Pace Voltaire, Doctor Pangloss and Leibniz were not fools.

Psycholinguists have noticed a remarkable phenomenon that explain with what they call the Communication Accommodation Theory.  This means that  “when people interact they adjust their speech, their vocal patterns and their gestures, to accommodate to others”

One element in this phenomenon is Convergence.  This can be observed whenever you listen to an interview: Every person has a specific speech pattern.  As the interview progresses, you will find that one party will begin to talk like the other party- in his accent, phrasing, intonation, and in many other elements of speech that are characteristic of a social stratum or location.  The inferior party will imitate the superior or dominant party.  This is not a conscious decision; just like wolves need to establish a hierarchy, humans will verbally examine each other and subconsciously decide on their relative status.  At that point, the subordinate will begin to imitate the linguistic traits of the dominant.

The idea is that in any social interaction one party will begin to imitate the other.  Sometimes it will be because one party instinctively perceives that he is subordinate to the other, and by imitating the superior's speech, he is currying favor.  Even where there is no clear dominant/subordinate, the speech patterns of both parties will Converge, will move toward the middle, will drop elements that distinguish the two patterns.

To bring this back to the Rambam, I want to point out that while usually in a one-on-one relationship there might be a dominant and a subordinate, and when there isn't the two parties will Converge, but when it's an individual and a community, the individual will always instinctively feel that he is subordinate to the community and will adjust to become more like the community.

Interestingly, this reflects something Reb Yerucham said.  He said pshat in the Rambam that it's not that an environment will reach out and influence you.  Pshat is that people instinctively seek social acceptance, and that desire will cause you to subconsciously imitate the group that comprises your human environment.  This is not a decision one makes.  It is, as the Rambam says, דרך ברייתו של אדם, something innate and unchangeable.  

This is described on Wiki as follows:
Convergence refers to the process through which an individual shifts his or her speech patterns in interaction so that they more closely resemble the speech patterns of his interlocutor(s). People can converge through many features of communication such as their use of language, their “pronunciation, pause and utterance lengths, vocal intensities, non verbal behaviors, and intimacy of self disclosures”(Giles and Smith, 1979, 46), but they do not necessarily have to converge simultaneously at all of these levels. In fact people can both converge at some levels and diverge through others at the same time .  People use convergence based on their perceptions of others, as well as what they are able to infer about them and their backgrounds. Attraction (likability, charisma, credibility), also triggers convergence. As Turner and West note, “when communicators are attracted to others they will converge in their conversations”.  On the other hand, as the similarity attraction theory highlights, when people have similar beliefs, personality and behaviors they tend to be more attracted towards each other. Thus when an individual shifts his speech and non-verbal behaviors in order to assimilate to the other it can result in a more favorable appraisal of him, that is: when convergence is perceived positively it is likely to enhance both the conversation and the attraction between the listener and the speaker. For this reason it could be said that convergence reflects “an individual’s desire for social approval” from his interlocutor, and that the greater the individual’s need for social approval, the more likely he or she is to converge. Besides attraction, other factors which “influence the intensity of this”need of approval and hence the level of convergence “include the probability of future interactions, the social status of the addressee, and interpersonal variability for need of social approval”.  Other factors that determine whether and to what extent individuals converge in interaction are their relational history, social norms and power variables.  Because individuals are more likely to converge to the individual with the higher status it is likely that the speech in a conversation will reflect the speech of the individual with the higher status. Converging also increases the effectiveness of communication, which in turn lowers uncertainty, interpersonal anxiety, and increases mutual understanding. This is another factor that motivates people to converge.

(Along the same lines, the idea that imitating speech patterns is an important part of patterning one's self on someone else can be observed in the fact that Hillel would sometimes say Malei Hin instead of just Hin.  The Rambam says that this was because he wanted to use the exact words of his teachers, Shmaya and Avtalyon, who simply could not pronounce the letter Hei, so they said In, not Hin, and they had to say Malei In to be understandable. (see Eduyos 1:3 in Pirush HaRambam)  If you're a talmid, you talk like your rebbi, you walk like your rebbi, and you eat like your rebbi.  Ultimately, you hope, you will become like your rebbi in all things.)

So the Mussar Haskeil is that we should always remember the Mishna in Avos and the passuk in Mishlei.

Avos 2:12- 
איזו היא דרך טובה שידבק בה האדם. ... רבי יהושוע אומר, חבר טוב; רבי יוסי אומר, שכן טוב

Mishlei 13:20-  הלוך (הולך) את חכמים (יחכם); ורעה כסילים ירוע

As the Medrash there says,
משל למי שנכנס בחנותו של בשם, אף על פי שאינו מוכר לו ואינו לוקח ממנו, הוא יוצא וריחו נודף, וריח בגדיו מבושמין, ואין ריחו זז ממנו כל היום, עליו הוא אומר הולך את חכמים יחכם... משל לאחד שנכנס לחנותו של בורסקי, אף על פי שאינו מוכר לו ואינו לוקח ממנו, הוא יוצא, ריחו וריח בגדיו מלוכלכין, ואין ריחו וריח בגדיו זז ממנו כל היום, ועליו הוא אומר ורועה כסילים ירוע

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