Does Thought Have Power?
by Braha Bender
Do you believe that your thoughts have power? The advertising industry does. Companies spend billions to prove it. Do they take our hand and physically drag us over to pick up and pay for their products? They don’t have to. Influencing the way we think is powerful enough.
What we think influences what we say and what we do. We act on the way that we perceive the world. But the power of thought goes further than that. If we choose to think and perceive our world in positive ways, we live in a positive world. If we choose to think and perceive our world in negative ways, we live in a negative world.
This isn’t a trick or a mind-game. It’s the simple truth. Someone looking down and focusing on the dirt on the floor will genuinely feel himself to be sitting in a dirty room. Another person, sitting in the same room but looking up through the large open windows, will genuinely feel himself to be sitting in a pleasant room full of air and light. To a large extent, our thought and perception determine our experience.
That’s why the Jewish sages tell us that it is so important to maintain an ayin tova, a “good eye”. A person who has an ayin tova is “one who is content with what he has, and does not demand additional, unnecessary possessions, and does not envy when he sees that his fellow has more than he does,” explains Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura.
The person with an ayin tova does not feel lacking himself, and as such feels no need to take away from others. He feels no need to take away from their possessions, from their dignity, or from their stature. Envy says that if the other guy is up, I am down. Flip the coin, and if I put him down, I must be going up. This way of relating to the world results in lashon hara, the grave sin of destructive speech. By maintaining an ayin tova, I don’t just cure the symptoms of lashon hara – gossip, catty criticism, put-downs – I cure the cause.
The sages go so far as to say that the ayin tova was one of the three identifying characteristics of Avraham (Abraham), founding father of the Jewish People and all they have stood for throughout history. The power of his ayin tova literally changed the world.
How do we develop an ayin tova? The famous Hassidic rebbe, Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk, used to pray that “all of us see the merits of our fellows and not their shortcomings”.
What would society look like without lashon hara? What would it feel like to live in a world where you could trust your neighbour, co-worker, family member, classmate not to gossip about you, even when they saw you slip up? What would it be like to live in a mature society where, if someone saw you doing something that looked wrong, they gently spoke to you about it instead of spreading it around the neighbourhood? What would it feel like to never let a gossipy or insulting word cross your lips?
Judaism is building that world. In biblical times, spiritual reality was more readily evident and gossip-mongers would find themselves ill with a disease called tzara’as. This disease would be cured by the gossip-monger regretting their destructive behaviour and committing to a fresh start. Today tzara’as no longer exists. We no longer have access to such obvious guide-posts on our own skin, but the spiritual illness spread by lashon hara can still break down society, break apart friendships, and destroy lives.
We can begin to think differently, speak differently, and live differently today. Cultivate a feeling of contentment with your own life, personality, and possessions. Find out about the Torah guidelines for relationship-building speech and communication. Choose to experience life through an ayin tova, and watch your world transform.