Two approaches to toxic situations

October 8, 2010 by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
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One of the strongest powers of influence is our surrounding.

Rabbi Michol Gourarie photo: Henry Benjamin

Our friends, family, acquaintances and work colleagues have a strong impact on our development and behaviour. Sometimes the environment can be negative or toxic. The people around us may create a culture of negativity that poses an enormous threat to our growth. Even if we are strong on the inside we are still vulnerable and can be adversely affected by forces on the outside. How do we protect ourselves from dangerous influences from those around us?

Remaining in, or coming to terms with a negative surrounding is too dangerous. We only have two options. The first is to remove ourselves from the environment. The second is to infect others with positive energy until the culture is transformed.

The Torah tells of two great men that lived in challenging times and were threatened by a toxic culture of evil behavior and distorted values. The first was Noah and the second Abraham. Noah was righteous and deserved to be saved even when the world was being flooded and destroyed. However the Torah also criticizes him for failing to influence and change those around him. He achieved salvation by distancing himself from the rest of society. Abraham on the other hand, was able to generate positive energy. His belief, kindness and sense of love became infectious. He inspired, educated motivated and encouraged others to come around to a belief system that taught morality, faith, goodness and kindness. He and Sara began as a tiny team fighting the entire world, but ended with a tremendous following of people with positive values.

The Torah tells us about both these great people, because they both have something to teach us. Sometimes the Noah model is the only option. We must make our positive development a priority which sometimes means moving away from negative influence. However, the preferred model is that of Abraham. We need to learn to communicate our values and attitudes with warmth excitement and enthusiasm. Our convictions and commitment to growth should be so strong that they become contagious. Our journey of life should be filled with such happiness that it becomes an attractive option to those around us.

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