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.

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 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.

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.

A lesson in judgement

I found this from something I wrote two years ago and decided that it’s never too late to pass it on.

My brother has been recently doing an experiment on me- he says the word exam, and sees how much I yell at him.

This morning, he innocently asked “Are your exams today?”

I launched at him, and began a tirade, only to hear him say, “I know you can’t be late, so I just wanted to make sure I was ready.”