Miles of Mitzvot

I would never have accepted the ride from my friend if I knew that she was driving totally out of her way just to pick me up. For reference, she lives a two minute drive from the event we went to, and I live about 20-30 minutes away. But when she heard that I wouldn’t be able to go without a lift, she offered to come. Not ‘if you can’t find anyone else’ or ‘can you meet me half-way?’ A round trip, in traffic, just because I needed a ride.

Much appreciated! Thank you

Sharing smiles

A sudden appointment was scheduled for me today, for tomorrow. Knowing how much my classmates have offered to help in the past, I put up a message on our grade contact board letting them know I’d be absent, and asking for any and all help catching up and getting notes. One girl sent me a message… not about what I said.

Just to tell me that I’d be missed tomorrow. I can’t tell you how it made me smile.

THE LITTLE THINGS MAKE A DIFFERENCE! DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRY!

Community strength

Anyone in my neighborhood will know who this (incredibly belated) post is talking about. The Rabbi and Rebbetzin of one local shul recently married off their oldest daughter, a friend of mine. The way the community has gathered to celebrate is truly inspiring. Many people went to the states for the wedding, and even more came to celebrations back here. What really touched me though, was seeing how many people have sponsored various kiddushim in their honor.

It’s clear to see how much the Rav and Rebbetzin have used their strengths to build up the community. I give the Chattan and Kallah the bracha to be able to also use their strengths to light up the place they now live in. Not like their parents do, but in their own unique way, and yet with the same strength. Mazal tov!

This article should help send a speedy and complete healing to Moshe Rephael b-n Orah and Chana b-t Rachel Leah

Thank you for the nagging

I’ve got a bad habit. A fairly harmless one, that many people do. I know I need to work on it, and yet I justify it. ‘I need it to cope.’ ‘I am working on it… a little.’ ‘I’m working on so many midot (traits), I’m just not up for this one yet.’ ‘I’ll be counterproductive, cuz I’ll just end up being resentful and doing it more.’ These were all valid points; I gave the matter some thought, and they went from real excuses to a battle plan for the future. But still, I was doing pretty poorly in the here and now.

Let’s use an example, for simplicity’s sake, and say this trait was complaining. I don’t whinge about the little minor things ‘oh, we have to share a bus with xyz’ or at least, what I call the little things (I guess the vending machine not being plugged in when I’m falling asleep and want soda is kind of a medium thing,) but I didn’t think I’d ever be one of those people who just quietly absorbed whatever life threw at them. a) They’re all tazadikeses and b) It just wouldn’t work for me. I need to get stuff out of my system, in order to stay healthy and sane. My friends have learned to live with it, and I’ve learned to pick a new friend each time I want to vent (or whatever my bad habit really is.)

So all the anti-complaining messages I’ve been hearing pretty heavily the past year (in a general sense, eg. school-wide campaign, never directed at me) just dropped my self esteem, left me defensive, made me resentful and justifying everything, and on occasion, left me in tears. (Inadvertently. It wasn’t her fault, she was only trying to help.) I just told myself everything you read above, and it was true. But it also seeped in.

I still indulge in my bad habit; I know I just need to let my feelings out. But I’ve also started paying more attention, in small sometimes subconscious steps. ‘Ok, so she needs to know I was sick for a week, but can I say it in a more positive way?’ ‘Ok, I need to vent, but how quickly can I change the topic?’ ‘Can I push off saying this for five minutes (at which point I will promptly forget it?)’ ‘Can I ask about her day first?’ I think it has less to do with a shift in behavior, and more just to do with having a more positive mindset, and realizing that my friends don’t always need to deal with this, even if they’re happy to. I just try and ‘vent’ in a more positive, long term, cheerful tone, and it takes the edge off. I’ll catch myself as soon as I feel better and not go on any longer.

So, this is a very long post to say a very short thing; To all the persistent, annoying, cheerful, inflexible, nagging people/messages over the past year, thank you for being that. I guess that future time I was going to start changing is now. Now, to work on my procrastination… let’s discuss it later ๐Ÿ˜›

Just because

Yesterday, I saw something my brother had been wanting for a long long while on sale, literally across the street from my school. I offered to pick it up for him, and collected the money. I told him I’d get it today if I could, or by Monday if not. Getting sick and spending lunch in the office was not part of the plan. (When is it?) I knew I could to it another day, but I always feel better when the easy to-do’s are crossed off my list right away. I spotted a friend coming into the office to deal with something else, and on impulse, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind picking it up for me.

It was a serious long shot, and I double checked that she didn’t mind when she said yes. But she confirmed my instructions, went out, and came back ten minutes later with the item, with the receipt and change like I’d asked for. So that’s one point for agreeing so well, one point for making it not feel like a big deal, one point for checking my instructions, one point for being fast, and 10 points for getting the job done properly. I was so appreciative, and she really helped make my brother’s day. It’s nice to know people are looking out for you.

A need for thanks

Saying thank you for a favor is easy. Saying thank you when you know you’re admitting to the world that you’re vulnerable and you know you couldn’t have managed without is harder. Nevertheless, I have to thank my vice principal today, for not just helping as she has had to so much recently, but how she helped.

I’ll make a long story short and just say I ended up in the office sick for the second (or maybe even third) time in a short while. The Vice-Principal is the one who usually deals with sick people in our school, and knows a lot about my medical history. In the past, when I end up in her office, I’m so worn out that after waiting it out a while, and a few protests and tears, I agree to be sent home. This time, though, I put up quiet the miserable fight. Someone was counting on me to be there today, and I didn’t want to let them down. These days, being sick has put an even bigger burden on everyone around me than before, and I let all my misery out to her. Another caring person who tried to help made things much worse and she dealt with it discreetly and properly.

The whole thing is a blur in my head, but I remember her thoughtfulness, her humor, her trying to accommodate me and help me stay as best as possible. I vividly recall that even when I was acting like a baby, she still talked to me like I was sane, and when I was ‘with it’ again, she talked to me as much like an adult as a Vice-Principal ever would to a baby-faced student. She made the whole thing less painful.

I didn’t just want her help, I needed it. And therefore, though I might not want to share my painful experience, I need to.

Constructive Criticism Pocket guide

(Yes, you can print this out for personal use, but please do not distribute without written permission.)

First of all, make sure that your words will be listened too. Double check. Are you sure you’re the right person to address this? Is this an issue to worry about? Is now the right time? If you’re as sure as you can be:

  1. Start in a pleasant, friendly voice. Keep it light.
  2. Talk somewhere quiet where you won’t be overheard.
  3. Don’t judge. Just point out, nicely, that you’ve noticed something, and you thought they might want to know.
  4. Don’t sound like the authority on the subject. You’re talking as a peer, a friend. Friends are awesome mentors and you don’t need to sound better than them to get your point across!
  5. Offer help and follow up, if you think it’s wanted. Not needed, wanted. You don’t want to force the issue.
  6. Plan what your going to say to make sure it’s the right words for now.
  7. Make sure it’s the right time to say it. Make sure it’s not just a quiet place, but a quiet time, and that your friend is in a good enough mood to listen.
  8. And finally, daven. Offer an informal prayer, or a quick kapital tehillim beforehand that it all go well. This is crucial!

If you use common sense and keep your best intentions for your friend in mind, you can’t mess it up too badly. Ask a mentor if you’re not sure. It can’t hurt to wait on it. GOOD LUCK, caring friend!

How to be a critic

I’ve mentioned constructive (I don’t like to call it rebuke, that’s for parents and teachers) criticism in posts in the past, and I thought a longer post about it might be warranted. What exactly is constructive criticism?

Did you know that just like it’s a mitzvah to rebuke someone, it’s a mitzvah not to if you know it’s not likely to be listened to? More often than not, my response is to turn a blind eye, and work on being machmir with myself instead, but sometimes, it has to happen. Here are some tips for being heard, without humiliating anyone or destroying a friendship. (FYI, yes, this post is long, but it’s worth reading. There’s a link to a short form at the bottom.)

  1. Keep a pleasant voice
    Start with something kind and friendly, such as ‘Hey, Shprintza, do you have a moment?’
  2. Move it to a private place
    99% of the time, this isn’t just an ‘if possible.’ Most people will willingly come somewhere quiet for a moment, but if no-where quiet can be found, you should almost definitely wait until later. This is to avoid anyone accidentally overhearing, which could be lashon Harah as well as rather embarrassing. Use your discretion! Also, keep a quiet tone of voice– my ‘inside voice’ carries quiet well sometimes, so I have to constantly remind myself to go one level softer than I would otherwise– if you think that will help.
  3. Again, be cheerful and non-judgmental.
    You should approach this at an angle of ‘You know, I’ve noticed sometimes that you blablabla bla bla. I don’t know if you realized but that’s really abababab. I thought you might want to know that smurfy smurfy smurf.’ You can’t deny that you noticed what their doing, but for your own peace of mind as much as for the other person you should assume that they didn’t know better. Often, that’s all it is. Even when you know that they probably do know and just need a reminder, taking that tone can get you listened to. Also, have you ever heard about ‘I statements’ vs. ‘You statements?’ Even when you’re talking to someone else about them, ‘I statements’ can soften your words. Look above for an example.
  4. Do NOT patronize
    Approach them as a friend, on their level. You’re just giving advice.
  5. If relevant, offer to help in the future
    Sometimes, one little reminder is all it takes. But if your ‘notice’ is a bolt out of the blue for the other person, or they’re genuinely interested in learning more, remind them that you’re available to follow up.
  6. Plan what you’re going to say before you say it.
    When I have something important to say, at any time, I know I’m not always going to get it right on the first time. So, I’ll rehearse it in my head beforehand. (This is helpful beyond measure in all areas of life.) Often, I can’t find a quiet place for some time, and that gives me the chance I need. When you’re planning, think about your friend’s nature. Are they the sensitive type who needs to be gradually led to an idea, or are they blunt and straightforward and would much rather just hear ‘Um, Sarah, you’ve got a huge run in those tights and you might want to find a new pair STAT’?
  7. Don’t heap it all on at once
    It’s happened more than once where I’ll say something that doesn’t even really register as criticism, ‘Lea, that bun looks great but there’s a cute little curl sticking out at the back. Just in case you don’t have eyes in the back of your head;’ and then, notice or see shortly after something that fits the ‘do say’ conditions above. Maybe it’s just that I’m the sensitive type mentioned above, but I wouldn’t like so much ‘problem fixing’ all at once. Unless it’s something really really minor (you be the judge) I’d rather wait a little while and see if the problem will resolve itself. Sometimes, it does, and then you don’t have to say two things at all.
  8. Remember, you can ask a mentor if you’re not sure.
    They are always available. If you don’t want to get ‘the authorities’ involved in whatever minor thing this person did, you can leave out names and the most crucial details, or ask someone who dosn’t know your friend. Sometimes, though, knowing both sides of the story can give a more careful response. And, above all these tips,ย DAVEN!!

Whew, that was quiet the post! Makes up for all the other weeks, I hope. In all seriousness, though, the goal of reading this isn’t for you to become an expert at criticizing your friends. We’re all perfect :), and I hope you’ll never need these skills. This way, though, if you ever see the need, you’ll have a better idea of how to encourage maximum improvement with minimal pain.

(Pocket guide! here, along with a few more tips.)