Gordon Davidescu wrote this article.
Stick with the winners. That’s a powerful lesson as taught to me by none other than my dear friend, Joe Rich. What I am referring to is not the people who are necessarily successful in life, but the people who have positive, successful attitudes. By surrounding yourself with people that have such attitudes and avoiding people who are mired in negativity and a lack of motivation, he told me, you can be pushed to do better and rise above your own expectations. Here are some examples from my own life; they are of course exquisitely disguised as I am not too keen on libel lawsuits. You can judge for yourself which ones are the winners and which are the ones to be avoided and excised from your life.
Theresa and Albert
I was first introduced to Theresa and Albert one Friday night in the context of a Friday night Shabbos meal. In the Jewish religion, we honor the holy Shabbos by holding three meals; one on Friday night and two on Saturday itself. I was set up to go to Theresa and Albert’s home through the synagogue meal coordinator and was pleased that I had somewhere to go instead of eating by myself. I kept on going because I was far too shy at the time to find other places to go. The food was delicious but many times I would walk away with a feeling of inner sadness, as though I were doing something inherently wrong with my life that I desperately needed to fix.
I spoke with a close friend who told me that while he used to enjoy going to Theresa and Albert’s, he completely stopped because he found their home to be a toxic environment. I could not believe this and did not understand what my friend meant. He pointed out that although both Theresa and Albert were good and generous people, there was a poison under the surface. Whenever anything in the realm of plans or ideas were mentioned to Theresa, she would gloss over them with a thick paintbrush of bile and pessimism. Albert would regularly slip in barbs of sarcasm, jabbing at people in a manner subtle enough to make it seem like it was almost accidental and yet not.
When I went there again, it was as though a glass jar had fallen onto the ground and shattered, the sharp shards spreading everywhere with a noise that could not be avoided. First, an idea that I had mentioned about applying to a certain job was poo poohed by Theresa without much consideration to how I felt about it. Then a sarcastic remark came from Albert about my prospects for finding someone with whom I would ever have a serious relationship. My friend was right, I realized. It took some time but eventually I walked away from the home for good.
I met Tanya a number of years ago. She was, and remains, friends with another friend of mine. We spent some time hanging out from time to time, and our time was generally pleasant. As time went on, I started to notice some less than pleasant things about Tanya. For example, I noticed that when Tanya was talking about her own problems, they were the most important problems in the universe. However, whenever I wanted to talk about some things that were going on in my own life, there just simply wasn’t any time to speak with me.
I also started to notice that days would pass without our speaking and then Tanya would call, invariably with a problem for me to resolve. How could I possibly think of doing anything but to come up with a solution to her problem? When I would call Tanya and want to talk about something, I would leave a message only to not hear back from her until the next time she had a problem; again, her problems were never small. They were always monumental issues that would induce lakes of tears. She would leave messages on my voice mail service that would just go on and on and on and by the time I was done listening, I didn’t need to have a second conversation with her because I knew everything she was going to say.
I started attending a class taught by Conrad when I moved back to New York at the end of August. I loved attending the class because I always learned things and I enjoyed the spirit with which Conrad infused the class. He really knew the subject well. After the first couple of classes, he asked me how I would like to have a Shabbos lunch meal at his home. I was thrilled. The prerequisite for having the meal at his home was that I was to attend his synagogue of choice and the class he taught after the morning prayers had come to an end.
I did exactly that and was once again enchanted with his class. He walked me to his home where one of his daughters offered to get me a book to read while the meal was set up. I read an English biography of some rabbi whose name I do not recall at this moment. Conrad’s wife came out and we talked about the day. The meal was mostly quiet although Conrad had quite a lot of questions for me about my background and how it was that I came to become observant. He and a couple of the guests there gave some suggestions for things I should consider doing to continue in my growth.
I suppose I made it quite obvious who the more toxic people were, and who the positive person was. At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself: who are the winners? A person doesn’t have to be wealthy or powerful to be a winner; some of the wealthiest people are miserable and walk around with the darkest clouds over their heads.
Find the winners and stick with them.
Attitude is the key that makes the difference in life. Complaining is comforting, we surely need help when we are in trouble but we do not need to whine or we don’t need to support that either.
Great article! Love the insights and your reasoning for discovering winners.
I realize the importance of being with people who have a positive outlook and the experience of knowing a downer or two only increases our appreciation of these true gems!
At a certain point when it becomes clear that someone is a chronic whiner with nothing else to do in life, you just have to cut them out. 🙂
That’s right. If we had no downers at all in life, would we more carefully scrutinize the gems to see the small flaws that do exist?
I thank you for taking the article of the day.
I love this article and I think it’s the best thing you’ve written. I love the blend of your religion, your kind self, and your witty and prescient insight.
Here is what concerns me about the Theresa and Albert section:
In the past, you have taught me that that kind of A+B Against C is uncouth in the Jewish Community because one is basically gossiping and bad-mouthing someone who is unable to directly defend themselves.
Now, perhaps your close friend didn’t know any better because he wasn’t Jewish — but what about you? You know better.
Why did you let that sort of snarky attack against people who had been kind to you affect you? Why not decide for yourself?
Perhaps you were on that lonesome road of self-discovery — and you would’ve earned the results of that experience on your own. However, the push from your “close friend” pulled you down into the dirty pit and, in my reading of your story, makes Theresa and Albert sponges of sympathy for the wrong that was done against them in the light of their willingness to share their table with you and your close friend.
The Chofetz Chaim teaches that speaking ill about someone when you are trying to protect your friend from an imminent danger, it is permissible. My friend knows that I generally allow people to treat me as a doormat and, I think, wanted to warn me that it was being done.
I should have been more specific. I chose to not believe that Theresa and Albert were toxic. I decided that I wanted to see for myself if it were possible that they were anything but saintly. I wanted to decide for myself if it was a toxic environment or if my friend just had it in for them. I really went in with an open mind and just tried to have a normal Shabbos meal but I listened carefully to everything they said.
That is ultimately how I reached my conclusion. I also didn’t mention another incident that happened later involving Elizabeth that sealed the deal, but I thought it to be extraneous when I wrote the article.
Thanks for the high compliment 🙂 Writing about it was a good experience.
I do love it when you explore religion, morality and cultural memes, Gordon. Your writing is at its most effective in that context.
I am still a bid saddened that your close friend poisoned you against people that welcomed you into their home to celebrate Shabbos. No marriage is perfect, but the willingness to bring others into your home to celebrate a grand religion — in spite of any marital difficulties — deserves some modicum of respect in the overall view. Did you tell them the real reason why you decided to stop celebrating with them?
I do overall hold a great deal of respect for Albert and Theresa – but I have learned to keep an appropriate distance. I felt that telling them the real reason(s) that I no longer attended their meals would do nothing but hurt their feelings and ultimately serve no purpose. Better that they see that I now hold my own meals and invite people.
A refreshing article. Stick with winners. What happens when you’re sticking with a winner and it becomes a loser? Can a loser become a winner again?
Absolutely. You have to help pull your friends out of the pits before it is too late! 🙂