"Who is wise? The one who learns from every person…"
It's the first in a series of proverbs that define wisdom, wealth, power, and honor.
I don't know the commentaries on it, but it seem that it's the baseline for the main objective of our interactions with other people:
Exposing yourself to the other person's light to be influenced by their light and their good points AND allowing the other person to be exposed to and influenced by your light and your good points.
Furthermore, we are supposed to actively seek out the good points in other people, including bad people.
This does not mean that we justify or whitewash prohibited behavior.
It means that we simply seek out whatever good does exist within that person. It's very easy to do this with some people, yet a grueling challenge to do this with others.
But let's get back to the idea of a person's "light."
What is Mutual Illumination?
- Everyone has some kind of light to shine on you.
- You also have your own light to shine on every person you meet.
Now, that light you have isn't necessarily what you think it is. Gaava (pride, arrogance) can get in the way. You might think that a person needs this-and-such from you, but maybe they really need something else.
Maybe what you think they need is really what they need, but maybe it's not.
So it's very important that, when interacting with another person, you open up yourself to receiving their light. Not their bad stuff and not necessarily what they literally say or think. It's deeper than that.
One of the big deterrents to the necessary exchange of light is a perceived status-difference between two people. People in positions of authority, whether they be teachers, mentors, advisers, rabbis, rebbetzins, doctors, therapists, etc. need to realize that the flow of light must go both ways. The people (clients/congregants/patients) turning to these authorities or experts also need to realize that the flow of light goes both ways.
For example, the community rabbi must realize that he's isn't just a giver; he also needs to be a receiver. When a congregant comes to him with a question or issue, the rabbi needs to be able to see the congregant's good points and allow the exchange of light to occur. Yes, the rabbi may be more intelligent and knowledgeable than the questioner. But that doesn't mean that the light flows only one way.
On a more casual level, a friend might turn to another friend in a way which temporarily raises the listener into a seemingly higher position, as the one who bestows wisdom or validation upon the other. Yet the talker is also giving something, even if neither realizes it.
Humility is essential in the smoothest exchange of light.
Humility is also the hardest trait to internalize, but to whatever extent you can, it's very good.
When the Light is Either "Fake" or One-Way
It may either be conscious or totally unconscious. We just turn away because that person is simply part of the scenery of our lives and not anything that seems to demand our attention or appreciation.
But I've noticed that if the exchange isn't facilitated in a positive way (i.e. seeing the good points and receiving the light), then Hashem whomps you with the light and forces it on you.
Meaning, that if you think someone is innately less worthy than you and you dismiss them, sometimes something happens. At some point, they might tell you off. Or you might find yourself rejected by them.
It's not happening on the conscious level and it goes without saying that if someone is lording themselves over you, that you need to learn from them, then that's a sign that you need to put some distance between the two of you because a self-important person wants to shine his or her ego onto others, and not his or her actual good points.
But if you're the one acting like "the great guru" or "the wise friend" or "the healer" or the helper" or "the authority" or "the consultant," you could be making yourself into a giver only and not also a receiver.
(Again, this usually happens instinctively, and not something you mean to do in the praiseworthy act of helping someone. In decent people, it's not a conscious act. And yes, I've been on both sides of this.)
At that point, the person may reject or dismiss you right back. Or maybe they'll tell you that you've hurt them in some way. They may even tell you outright that you're full of yourself.
However, it's important to note that just because someone says you are not giving them enough kavod or attention or chessed doesn't mean that it's true. A giver-only can also attack you because they refuse to also be a receiver. Meaning, they attack you because they are trying to block themselves from receiving your light.
If someone responds to you as per the above, it's important to take the scenario to a quiet place and examine it with Hashem to figure out whether it's true or not.
(And if it is true, how true is it?)
An arrogant person wants to shine his or her ego on others...in other words a fake light. But the real light is still there.
Seeing the good points in even an arrogant person can help access the real light that's hidden the glare of the fake ego-light.
How to Both Give and Receive Light
They need to be influenced by your light and you need to be influenced by theirs -- the light being whatever good points each person possesses.
So how to facilitate this?
- When someone turns to you, see their good points, whatever you can find. Even if you truly are wiser, more experienced, more mature, and more knowledgeable than the other person, they still have good points that you lack.
- If you turn to someone to receive from them, be careful that they see your good points along with the flaws you are trying to fix. People who are critical, condescending, and dismissive block themselves from receiving light -- which means that they can't give real light to you either.
- Know that what you think you have to give others isn't necessarily what you really have to give. It might be so for some people, but for others, it's something else.
- Giving encouragement (chizuk) to the other necessitates seeing their good points, which facilitates the exchange of light. So if you find yourself in the "guru" position, focusing on being mechazek (strengthening, encouraging) the other enables you to both give and receive light.
May we all merit to illuminate and be illuminated by everyone we meet.