Fair is one of those words that in reality means very little.  When a child protests a punishment saying, “That’s not fair,” most of us try to explain why it really is fair.  A better response would be, “Hippopotami mostly eat grass.”  “What’s that got to do with anything?” the baffled offspring might ask. “Precisely!” you’d triumphantly exclaim.

Another word with little meaning is manipulative. When I once recommended an obvious course of action to a henpecked husband, he reared up to his full height and self-righteously announced, “Oh, I would never do that, it would be manipulative.”  Note: He’s still henpecked but not as bothered because he’s become used to it.

My point is that opening a faucet is being manipulative.  Asking for a raise in the most effective manner is as manipulative as dissipating your toddler’s temper tantrum by distracting him.  So what?  Fair doesn’t automatically mean good and manipulative doesn’t always mean bad.

I tell you all that in order to tell you this:  In every interchange between two parties, at any given moment, one is more powerful than the other.  For instance, when a customer walks into a shoe store, she is more powerful than the eager proprietor.  When it turns out that she absolutely must have that pair of shoes, the balance begins to switch.

When a man attempts to get a date with the object of his desire, she holds the power.  Once she’s foolishly allowed the dating to continue for three years in the hope of marriage, the power has clearly switched to him. Successful negotiation at both work and home demands a crystal clear awareness at all times of what the power dynamic looks like.

The Israelites beseech their new king to lower taxes.  He responds by instructing them to depart for three days and then return.

And he (Rehoboam) said to them: “Go away for three, days then return to me…”
(I Kings 12:5)

Clearly, he had no intention of lightening the yoke.  When they return three days later, he tells them that he is going to increase their burden significantly.

Since he already knew what he would say, why did he send them away for three days, rather than immediately giving them the bad news?

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that King Rehoboam recognized that the Israelite delegation was presenting an ultimatum.  They approached him as potential rebels.  The recipient of an ultimatum is automatically at a disadvantage.  Instinctively desiring to regain the power initiative, he commanded them to leave and return.

This was for only one reason: When they returned three days later, they came as supplicants obeying his command.  The king was now in charge.  The balance had shifted, conferring an advantage upon him.

Try to make yourself conscious of what the power balance looks like in each moment of every interaction. Your goal should always be for both parties to thrive, but don’t think “fair.”  That only confuses. When your toddler doesn’t have a meltdown or your boss retains a valuable, motivated employee, everyone is better off.

Know how to arm and prepare yourself for encounters whenever possible.  If you’re out of ammunition, don’t point your gun.  Conversely, if you do hold the cards, be aware of it.  That’s not evilly manipulative.  It is making sure that you’re not merely a tennis ball floating down the gutter of life.  Sometimes, like the shoe shopper earlier, not disclosing your urgent need for something lets you bargain more successfully. Other times, if you are the one with more power, you can exhibit graciousness allowing the relationship to continue smoothly.

Susan and I love discussing ideas like this one on our daily TV show on TCT. We are able to go deeper into the topic than a short Thought Tool allows as well as to expand on how it relates to your finances, friendships, family and faith. We are delighted that Volume 2 of the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show is now available on DVD with four more of your favorite episodes (save money by getting volume 1 at the same time). These shows are great for launching valuable conversations with your spouse, children and friends – even with yourself.

This week’s Susan’s Musings: Of Parents and Predators

When I heard that, after being taken into custody for kidnapping and raping three girls in Ohio, Ariel Castro was not able to raise $8 million dollars in bail, my first reaction was, “He should be facing a lynch mob, not a bail possibility.” Admittedly, lynch mobs have their problems…READ MORE

Ask the Rabbi

Is there any significance to the order in the creation account of the ‘evening and the morning’ were the first day, etc? Does the evening begin a new day rather than our view of morning being the start of a new day?

Charles J.

Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s ANSWER HERE

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