Pirke Avot 3:16

Rabbi Yishmael says:

Be yielding to a superior,

pleasant to the young,

and receive every person cheerfully.

Rabbi Yishmael was a very great scholar of the Torah who lived around the time of the destruction of the Temple in 70C.E..

Be yielding to a superior.  In our very “egalitarian” modern world this sounds a bit like “kiss up to your boss” at every opportunity.  This is not what the rabbi had in mind according to rabbinic interpretation and tradition.

He had in mind something more like – “understand your place in the system”.  Don’t try to teach those who are more learned in the topic than yourself.  Don’t try to show someone who has been doing something since before you were born how to do it (right).  These things demonstrate that you are a fool.

Now, it certainly might be true that you DO have some valuable insight to share – but then share it carefully, with respect, to the one who has more seniority than you do.

Be pleasant to the young.   This is the flip side to the first part – if it happens that you are the superior, that you are the “wise one” – then treat those who are of lesser status in a pleasant way.  Be kind and considerate and careful with them.

Receive every person cheerfully.   Retaining your dignity and station – be pleasant with all.  You are not (and should not be) drinking buddies with all comers!  But you CAN be gracious and considerate in your interactions with all – including the young, the ignorant, and those who disagree with you.

Does this apply today?  Of course!

Recognize the limits of your knowledge and skills.  Be aware that others may have more experience or knowledge than you do and be prepared to yield to them when they do.  An old piece of wisdom is a corollary here – “It’s not what you don’t know that kills you – it’s what you think you know!”.

Be pleasant and cheerful with all.  You never know who might become your boss next month!  You never know who is the new boss’ nephew!  And seriously – it’s always a good idea in community (and at work and at home) to be kind and gracious in our interaction.  Someone’s status does not give them the license to be rude or inconsiderate – though many seem to think and act like it does.