Sunday 13 July 2014

027) Lovely but Meaningless Responses

Imagine your boss humiliating you in front of your colleagues. He asks you to prepare a report and you did not manage to have it ready on time. Now he is raging mad and everybody knows about it.

You leave the office for home with that sickly feeling in the pit of your stomach. You happen to bump in to eight good friends that evening and tell each one of them of your woes. Each has a different response which they are happy to share with you. In a situation like this, according to renowned psychologists Faber and Mazlish, there are eight common responses:
  1. “THE DOWNGRADER” - This friend tells you that it’s not as terrible as you are making it out to be. You are blowing the situation out of proportion and you are far too sensitive and emotional. You are overreacting.  
  2. “THE PHILOSOPHER” – The next friend explains to you that this is the nature of work. Deadlines are not met and bosses shout. He reminds you that life in general is like that. You get good days and bad days.
  3. “THE ADVISOR” – The third friend jumps in and immediately offers his valuable suggestions. Either apologize to your boss first thing in the morning, or dig your heels in and resign in protest to the unfair way in which you were treated.
  4. “THE INQUISITIVE” – This friend has nothing really to offer. All he wants to know is more details. How long have you worked in the company? Did he also shout at someone else? Is he Jewish?
  5. “DEFENDS THE OTHER” – This type of friend offers you no support whatsoever but instead jumps to the defense of the boss. Then he rubs salt into the wound by saying that if he were your boss, he would do the same thing.
  6. “PITIFUL” – This friend is so upset for you, he says that if he were you he would just go home and cry. He doesn't know how you could possibly face going back to work tomorrow.
  7. “THE PSYCHOLOGIST” – He explains to you that a boss is a ‘fatherly figure’ and that you are feeling bad now because it’s akin to having your father reject you.
  8. “EMPATHY” - This is the only friend out of the whole bunch who has a meaningful and useful response. He doesn't advise, nor psychoanalyze. He doesn’t take the side of the person who upset you. He doesn't ask questions nor offer you philosophical insights.
He may not even say a word. He may just touch your arm to show support, and leave you with your dignity restored. Now you know that you are still part of a social system that works and that you have not been entirely betrayed or targeted. This is the only friend who helps you in a meaningful way.

Let’s take these eight responses and play them out in a religious context. Assume you are having a religious crisis of sorts. Now you bump into eight of your religious friends and hear their responses: 
  1. “DOWNGRADER” – This friend tells you that Judaism is easy. You just have to realize it comes from Hashem and all you need to do is persist, and soon everything you do will be amazingly meaningful.
  2. “THE PHILOSOPHER” – The next friend explains that in this world we are only privy to half the picture. We build a puzzle with missing pieces which of course will become clearer only in the next world.
  3. “THE ADVISOR” – The third friend jumps in and immediately tries to help by advising you to say Tehillim and have your Mezuzos checked, or to Daven slower.
  4. “THE INQUISITIVE” - This friend has no real contribution to make. He is the same type of personality, who, after a shiur asks not; ‘what was said?’, but; ‘how many people were there?’
  5. “DEFENDS THE OTHER” – This type has no consideration for your inner feelings, but quotes chapter and verse about how you are going to be punished for your doubts and dilemmas. He may also throw in the precise number of prohibitions you have already transgressed by your thoughts and actions.
  6. “PITIFUL” – This friend (usually it’s an overbearing rebbetzin) is just so full of love and concern for you, they make you feel so weak and spiritually claustrophobic, and you are left (perhaps fuller but) no wiser.
  7. “THE PSYCHOLOGIST” - He explains to you that according to Jewish mysticism there are often ‘blockages’ of sorts in the life-giving channels that dominate the spiritual realms. You need to ‘unblock’ these obstructions by careful attention to other areas of your life, which he proceeds to also offer more guidance upon. 
Clearly, while some of the aforementioned responses may be pleasing on the ear to some, others may find them bereft of any depth and perhaps even insulting. A person in crisis needs one thing:
  1. “EMPATHY” – This is generally the best response. No advice, no complicated explanations, no pity, no hocus pocus and certainly no judging. You are completely accepted as you are, and shown genuine friendship. This friend has no agenda (hidden or otherwise).
The interesting thing about this approach is that a corrective reaction is very often elicited. Your crisis slowly finds (not magic), but an atmosphere in which the kernel and stirrings of resolution can take hold. 
The Kotzker Rebbe went to the yartzeit of his teacher, R Simcha Bunim of Peshischa. There he bumped in to his best friend R Yitzchak of Vorka, also a former student. “I see you have come to pray at the gravesite of our holy master and former teacher”, said the Vorka Rebbe. “No”, retorted the Kotzker, “I am not a man who believes in graves. I only came here to be with you, my dear friend.”
(Emet Ve Emunah) 

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