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The Hillel Principle

Wednesday, 30 April, 2008 - 6:42 pm

I meet and interact with lots of people. I value these people and want to treat them fairly, with consideration for their needs and feelings.

But, in truth, how can I? Close friends and family aside, how can I really know the needs, feelings and expectations of so many people? Is that realistic?

Hillel, a 1st century Sage, had an answer, and he summed it up with a practical equation - a Principle for Proper Living:

"What is hateful to you, don't do to others".

This aphorism sends profound messages:

1. The road to harmonious relations begins with your own self-awareness. Become conscious of what hurts you. Then stop doing it.

2. Hillel didn't say 'dislike'; he said 'hate'. We're not talking about mild irritants, so if you don't like coffee, you can/should still offer it to your guests. Rather, consider the things which cause you hurt; think of how it feels to be judged, maligned, disrespected etc. Taste your revulsion; now remember that the other guy has feelings too.

3. Hillel didn't say: "Go out there and save the world". His words are more like "First do no harm".

So go ahead and be a hero, but first - and more importantly - make sure no one's getting hurt.

4. Hillel framed his advice as a passive 'don't do', rather than an active 'do unto others'.

This allows for Hillel's words to serve as practical advice for real life.

Meaning: Personally, I like to have my requests granted. Does that automatically obligate me to grant every request that comes my way?

Obviously not.

That’s impractical and leaves no room for my judgment.

So how should I behave when considering a request?

I should refrain from behavior that I dislike; I shouldn't act condescendingly, disrespectfully, capriciously etc.

I'm an adult, and I don't expect my every wish to be honored. Neither should you. But there's no need to disrespect me. And that applies to you too.

Hillel encapsulated many Mitzvos in this brilliant Principle. 

It's easy to remember.

It's more difficult than it sounds.

It's more rewarding than we can imagine.

 

 

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