Just released! Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s 48 Ways to Wisdom. Click here to order.
After hearing a good story, joke, or idea, we're anxious to repeat it to others. But in doing so, the tendency is to present it as our own original invention.
Ha'omer davar bi'shaim omro literally means "say it in the name of the one who said it." Whenever quoting something, you should always acknowledge the source. In other words, "don't steal credit."
The Talmud, the classical book of wisdom, goes to great lengths to trace the intellectual lineage of an idea: "So-and-so said in the name of So-and-so, who said in the name of So-and-so."
So next time you're ready to share a juicy one, don't forget to mention: Where did you get it from?
The Gift of Wisdom
In order to properly appreciate anything, we need to assess its value. That's why when someone gives us a material gift, we usually have no problem showing gratitude.
The 48 Ways says: Acknowledge spiritual gifts, too. Wisdom is certainly more valuable than gold, and the secret of happiness is more precious than a diamond!
As an exercise, make a list of the ideas you regularly espouse, along with the original sources you heard them from. Think of people who gave you wisdom for living. Did a friend set you straight on something? Your brother saved you from doing some stupid things? An employer gave you good career advice?
Acknowledge that you received the gift. If someone took the blinders off your eyes, it's fantastic, it's a different life. Say to yourself: "I am now aware of something very important that I wasn't paying attention to." Say it out loud. That alone will make you feel genuine appreciation.
Now, let the source know how much you appreciate it. Consider as if the "thank you" is payment for the good idea. Enjoy paying this debt, don't loathe paying it. The pleasure that you'll give the other person is small payback for such an enormous gift!
A good place to start is with your parents. Make a list of all the gifts they've given you, both materially and ethically – your sense of honesty, discipline, desire for truth, kindness toward people. Appreciate how valuable each one of these is. Come on, what did you get from your parents? Find out.
Next, write your parents a letter, thanking them for these gifts. It sounds a bit corny, but it is awesomely powerful. Do you understand what enormous pleasure you'll give them? Plus what pleasure you'll have in giving them that pleasure?!
Value the Source
When you acknowledge the source, you don't lose, you win. You will never be able to appreciate a piece of wisdom, an insight into living, unless you are willing to acknowledge the gift. Because by denying the gift, you downgrade its value. Therefore you won't apply it seriously – because to you it doesn't have value.
Furthermore, if you are consciously aware of where your wisdom is coming from, then you're much more likely to go get more.
Direct others to the source as well. Let everybody know. When somebody else is happy, it doesn't steal any happiness from you. Actually, the more people who are happy, the easier it is for you to be happy.
When there's more wisdom around, the greater life becomes for us all.
Why do people have a hard time acknowledging someone else as the source of an idea?
The reality is that people crave independence, and are grappling for status and one-upmanship. Debts to others seem to threaten that stature. We don't like to imagine that we weren't smart enough to "figure it out for ourselves."
In truth, independence means that you pay your debts.
What does this tell us? Whenever you feel the need to take credit for someone else's work, alarm bells should ring. It's a warning sign of insecurity. Because even though it may "make us look good," it's actually a cheap substitute for legitimate self-improvement.
If you want credit for a good idea, think of one yourself!
Beyond this, if others find out about your "theft," then you've lost credibility in their eyes. And even if no one else finds out, you've damaged your self-respect. These are hard commodities to get back.
Give credit where credit is due. People will respect you for it, and you'll feel good about yourself – even better than if you'd taken the credit!
Track Down Opinions
There is a more subtle dynamic at play here. Sometimes we pick up prevalent ideas in society, and walk around presenting them as our own conclusions.
Make a list of your opinions on subjects like free will, absolute truth, evolution, abortion, etc. Track down the source of each. Are they your original ideas? If not, where did they come from? Did you read a magazine article, or a friend impressed you? How did you reach your conclusion?
Don't fool yourself. Recognize that once your ego is invested, you're not looking at the evidence, pro and con. You're just "defending your conclusion." And the inherent danger is obvious: Deep down, we're not sure whether or not we believe it.
For example, you may believe "there is no absolute truth." Instead, try rephrasing it: "People say there is no absolute truth." This way, you're free to investigate the idea objectively, without being locked into a position.
Now shift the question a bit deeper: Why did you choose to identify with these particular ideas in the first place?
Next time you hear a discussion of a controversial topic, resist the temptation to accept an idea just to feel that you've "settled the issues of living." Defer a conclusion until you've heard all the evidence. Otherwise it's pretending, play-acting, not really living.
Can you ever be sure of a conclusion? Yes! The 48 Ways says: Learn the dynamics of clarity and study how the dimension of knowledge works. Then you'll feel the surety when it comes.
Gratitude to the Jewish People
Make a list of society's treasures – monotheism, justice for all, universal education, dignity of the individual, preciousness of life. These core values of the civilized world are all from the Torah.
Before the Torah was given, people built their lives on a subjective concept of right and wrong. Then at Mount Sinai, human history underwent a dynamic shift. People understood that there is one God who has moral expectations. You can't just live as you please; there is a higher authority you are accountable to.
Despite the fact that Jews were never more than a tiny fraction of the world's population, these ideas became the basis for the civilized world. For example, do you know the source of the idea "Love your neighbor as yourself"?
It's in the Five Books of Moses – Leviticus 19:18.
The Jewish people are an eminent firm, 3,500 years old. We are no fly-by-night. The world uses our products under different brand names and takes it for granted. Consider what humanity owes to the Jewish people.
If you are living with Jewish wisdom, know it, quote it, and give credit.
Gratitude to the Almighty
More than all, give credit to the Almighty. He gave us a brain to understand and appreciate wisdom. Other teachers enlighten us, but the original teacher is God. He implanted within us the intuition to discover all there is to know about living.
God is showering us with gifts all the time. Food, air, eyes, teeth. Life itself. He programmed us with an antenna for wisdom. Nothing is possible without God.
The problem is that we don't want to be indebted to Him, so we deny the gifts. We refuse to believe that He loves us.
It's like the son who doesn't want to acknowledge the gift of a new Porsche. He's going to say it's the wrong color, it has a dent, it guzzles gas. He'll find something wrong with it because he doesn't want to acknowledge the debt.
In order to connect with God, you have to learn to appreciate all the good He has done for you. That means giving up the illusion that you alone are responsible for your achievements. It's all a gift from God. Just as every stroke of Picasso's brush has his signature on it, everything in this world has God's signature on it. We have to learn to appreciate it.
If you make the effort to appreciate the gifts God has bestowed upon you, then you'll have such a keen awareness of God's presence that everything you do is accompanied by a sense of His love and guidance. You'll be overwhelmed above and beyond any other pleasure possible.
That's why gratitude is the ultimate appreciation, the 50th Way to Wisdom. This is the step that unifies all the others. So start loving God. Acknowledge His great and many gifts.
Why is "Rewards of Gratitude" a Way to Wisdom?
- Make a list of things that you quote. Know where you got them, and give credit.
- If you downgrade the source of your wisdom, you downgrade the value of the wisdom.
- Tools for living are more valuable than any car, stereo, or trip around the world. Acknowledge the debt.
- When gratitude to others breaks down, then so does society as a whole.
- Turn the tables: If it was your idea, wouldn't you want credit?
Just released! Rabbi Noach Weinberg’s 48 Ways to Wisdom. Click here to order.