A Much-Needed Brownie

It was just a regular school day, and I had no reason to think that my usual routine would be any different. I started counting on my fingers: after Navi was lunch, then Biology, Business, Writer’s Craft, and English.

I was sitting in a classroom minding my own business, when I saw my sister wheeling through the hallway with a smile on her face. She saw me through the window, and her face lit up. In a moment she was in the door. “Hey, sis,” she said. “I brought you a brownie!”
I felt a smile start to form on my face that could rival hers. It was so unexpected, and yet it was just what I needed. I was so impressed by her utter thoughtfulness.

I couldn’t eat it right away, so when anyone asked me about the box I was carrying, I replied, “My sister gave it to me!” and beamed when people responded, “That was so sweet of her!”

So thank you, sis!

 

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.

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, 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.)

Literally Running for the Mitzvah

On the bus home this afternoon, I became aware of a commotion. Two girls had gotten off earlier than their usual spot, and the other riders wanted to know if the twins’ older sister was coming too.

“No,” she said. So why had they gotten off, and in such a hurry? “(Classmate) left her phone on the bus. They wanted to give it back to her. So off they ran, three blocks I think, and four back.

Kol HaKavod!

Constructive Criticism 2

I hesitate to point an issue to someone, partly because often, it’s sad to hear that the person is fully aware of it and just doesn’t really care, and partly because I value my hard-built relationships with my friends and don’t wish to be so critical of them. So, when I saw a friend in an iffy situation, right after I’d politely mentioned that her hair looked perfect except for that one little spot, I didn’t say anything. Even with a good, positive-outlook friend, two ‘nags’ in five minutes, however minor, just felt bad to me. I couldn’t imagine how much worse it must feel on the listening end, especially first thing in the morning.

But later that afternoon, I saw it again. And though my instinct these days is ‘look right by’,’ this time, it wasn’t. I mentioned that I was sure she didn’t know, but that this was technically something that could end in a ‘rule infraction mark.’

Her response was genuine disbelief, and an immediate ‘thank you for telling me!’ She made me feel a little better about judging my friends favorably– some people truly do want to be corrected, provided it’s done with kindness and tact.

Constructive Criticism 1

It’s somewhat sad to write about something that you wouldn’t even notice is a good and positive thing if it weren’t that so few people did it. But the fact is, we all notice the bad things anyway. I choose to also highlight the good.

I overheard two girls today talking about a particular teacher and a particular class. But what made them different was that they weren’t griping, exaggerating, blaming, or speaking lashon harah.

Rather, one told her friend that she was having xy and z issue, and that this was why. She added, in a reasonable, calm voice, that she knew she should respect this teacher, and she did, but that nevertheless, this was still an issue, and she had no clue what to do about it. Her concerns, I can attest to personally, were valid, and it was an issue. But the way she handled it showed maturity and respect.

Though poor behavior cannot be denied to exist, I also choose not to highlight it. If you don’t understand why this was music to my ears, kol hakavod for you.

Such a gift

I plan to elaborate on this later, but I can’t go to bed without saying thank you.

I never eat potato chips, but today, in the midst of one of the worst days I’ve had in a while, I suddenly wanted some, and ran down between classes.

G-d made the vending machine give me my chips for nearly free. Believe me, I was a little worried it was theft, and tried to work around it. But the machine insisted! What could I do?

In addition to those special rare souls who showed how much they care today, that warm hug from above helped take the edge off of the pain. I still don’t know what happened, or why, but I know, somehow, that it will be ok.

A light in the dark

The recent stabbing attacks in Israel have all been so horrific, but this one stands out. A 13 year old on his bike. Where I live, if you stay away from the traffic, nothing could be more prosaic. Stabbed by two boys, one his age, one a little older.

Here is some light. We all know how amazing Hatzolah/Magen David Adom is. Here’s a new one. A Hatzolah member picking his child up from a playdate while off duty stopped to answer a question from someone in the family– a, if Heaven forbid this happens, how do we work around xyz already existing issue?– question. Of course they would. It’s just another way for them to preempt a crisis and potentially save a life.

But still– look at it deeper. Maybe you just had to be there to appreciate the encouraging, kind tone that was used. The willingness to stay however long the question took. The way his child stood waiting patiently the entire time. The fact that we’re a nation where something like this isn’t breaking news… just a part of life. So normal it’s exceptional.

Wishing you all good health and protection to all the residents of Israel.

A public apology and show of gratitude

A lot of people have at school have asked me the usual question, ‘So, what did you do this summer?” I found out the hard way that ‘Work on  two websites’ is a much better answer than ‘spend a lot of time sick in bed, work, clean my room and do a chemistry course,’ and it’s not hard to see why.

Once, someone asked me which two, and I told her, rushing out the door to try and grab a drink before class, “Inspired by Starlight, which you should know, and my crafts website.”

She asked me a question about Starlight and I sad, “You READ THAT?” Ok, here’s the apology.

I wasn’t amazed by her reading it personally. It was only that something must be faulty in our reader stats, because nothing matching her location was showing up. It was also part gratitude– Lucky and I have been wondering for a while if anyone but us writers reads the blog anyway. We rarely get e-mails in, so it’s hard to tell. She’d often said that if one person read it, it would be worth it.

The girl’s reply was “Sort of.”  Thanks for accepting what I said and being one of those people.

Communication

Thank you to the friend, who spent the morning wondering if she paid on her cellphone for incoming calls, or just outgoing. (I though yes, she though no.) She still doesn’t know.

Even so, when a friend called from her seminary in Israel while we were on the bus home, she happily gave in to my nagging and gave it to me so that I, cellphone-less, could also have a quick turn to talk. It was really above and beyond and I was very glad for the opportunity.