The Mishnah says, “Every controversy that is for the sake of Heaven will have lasting value, and if it is not for the sake of Heaven, it will not endure.” It then continues, “what is a controversy for the sake of Heaven? This is the controversy between Hillel and Shammai. And a controversy not for the sake of Heaven? This is the controversy of Korah and his followers” (Avot 5:17).
Commenting on this passage, the Meiri (1249-1310 France) says, “And which is the machloket that is for the sake of Heaven? That of Hillel and Shammai, for one would rule on a matter and the other would disagree with him in order to understand the truth and not just for sake of provocation or a desire to win. And which is the machloket that is not in the name of Heaven? That of Korah and his congregation, for they came to complain about Moshe Rabbenu, may he rest in peace, about his leadership, (solely) out of jealousy and provocation, and (a desire) to win.”
Sure enough, Korah states, “It is enough for you, for all of the assembly is holy – all of them – and God is within their midst: and why do you raise yourself over the congregation of God?” (Bemidbar 16:3). Korah does not come to ask clarifying questions, have a discussion over decisions made, or give constructive criticism. Instead, he turned toward personal attack in order to bring about his desired outcome.
Last year my good friend and teacher, Sky Yardeni, introduced to me a new language of communication. A major aspect of this system of expression is speaking from the ‘I.’ This practice picks up on the fact that more often than not when sharing, we utilize the pronoun ‘you.’ As an example, if I were sharing about a fight I recently had with my partner, I may say, “when you have a fight with your partner, first you get really angry and then you feel this overpowering urge to just leave.” In contrast, I might say, “when I fight with my partner, first I get really angry and then I feel this overpowering urge to just leave.”
When I catch myself utilizing the ‘you,’ I find it is out of fear of feeling vulnerable. By saying ‘you,’ I am able to keep my life’s experiences at a safe distance. This process, however, also closes me off from actually sharing and the opportunity for growth. Additionally, sharing from the ‘I’ makes it much easier for the listener to hear me. It may very well be that their fights with their partners are very different, or they may not have a partner at all. When this is the case, it is very easy for the listener to feel ostracized or even triggered into a non-constructive response. By sharing from the ‘I,’ I make it much easier for you to listen.
I wonder how different the outcome could have been if only Korah had spoken from the ‘I.’ What if he had approached Moses saying, ‘I am scared that we will all die in the wilderness’ instead of, “It is enough for you.”
I encourage us all to listen carefully to ourselves and each other this week. I hope we can give attention to the pronouns we use when we share. If you find that what I am saying is true, I pray that you take the time and energy to stop, slow down, and share from the ‘I.’ I truly believe if we can all do this not so simple thing, all of our arguments can be for the sake of Heaven, and together we can build a more compassionate world.