Self-improvement trends come and go, but their continuing  popularity underscores people’s general desire to better themselves. It is natural to want to be both liked and respected, and no insult is greater to most people than to be considered a boor.

Some people are naturally charismatic. Others are effortlessly respected for their innate intelligence, creativity or athleticism. Most of us, however, often have to work hard at being someone whom others respect and admire.

In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), the sages offer the following advice:

Seven marks characterize the boor, and seven the wise man. The wise man does not speak before one who is greater than he in wisdom and he does not break in upon the speech of his fellow. He is not hasty to answer. He asks what is relevant and answers according to the halacha. He speaks on the first point first and on the last point last. Where he has heard no tradition, he says, “I have not heard;” and he agrees to what is true. The opposites of these attributes are the marks of the boor (5:11).

These rules are quite straight-forward when one thinks about them. One who wishes to become wise does not assume to know more than he/she actually does. Listening to others, thinking before one speaks, respecting tradition, staying focused and being able to acknowledge one’s own ignorance or one’s own error, are all signs of one who is wise.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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