‘We cannot control what others say or do, but we should strive to do what we can so that others don’t have easy reasons to say less than complimentary things about us.’
This, in short, is what our Sages in today’s daf (Ketubot 22b) derive from Mishlei 4:24 which states: הָסֵר מִמְּךָ עִקְּשׁוּת פֶּה וּלְזוּת שְׂפָתַיִם הַרְחֵק מִמֶּךָּ – ‘Remove yourself from stubborn mouths and maintain your distance from crooked lips’, thereby teaching us that we should ideally avoid doing things that provide fodder for others to speak badly about us.
What this means is that we should be both ‘self-aware’ and ‘other-aware’, and this is beautifully expressed by Rav Kook who writes (Orot Hakodesh I p. 84): דע את המציאות שאתה חי בה – ‘Know the reality in which you live’, דע את עצמך ואת עולמך – ‘Know yourself and your world’.
Yet while these words of Rav Kook can be interpreted as words of caution about the limitations of ourselves and of others and the need for us to be cognizant of the inherent dangers of our physical and social surroundings, he is actually offering us words of encouragement about the possibilities of ourselves and of others and how we should recognize that we can achieve great things in life.
Significantly, Sefer Mishlei – and other great ethical works – regularly feature these dual messages. They are pragmatic in terms of recognizing the flaws and weaknesses of humanity, yet also deeply uplifting in terms of recognizing the abilities and potential of humanity.
And so, while we should strive to do what we can so that others don’t have easy reasons to say less than complimentary things about us, we should – at the same time – strive to do what we can to realize our potential of being a great blessing to the world.