Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Two Pet Peeves

Ok, I don't often use this blog as a soap box to rant, but please humor me this one time as I do just that about two of my pet peeves:

My first pet peeve is when a person says "We missed you" after you chose not to show up for something or other. These three words are not said to make you feel better. Sure, there can be occasion where the person sincerely missed spending time with you, but in my experience this is very rarely the case. These three annoying words are usually uttered by some peripheral person who is merely trying to make you feel guilty for not attending some event. He or she is lamenting the fact that they were pressured into attending and are now expressing displeasure with the fact that you were able to get out of it somehow.

I would never utter these three words to another person because when I am on the receiving end of them they sound like nails on a chalk board. A few years ago, I witnessed an interchange at a shul I used to daven at which taught me the proper response to these three words.

Yosef, a gentle and soft-spoken Persian Jew, was absent from shul for a few weeks. Entering the shul the following Shabbos, the rabbi looked up and said, "Yosef, we missed you last Shabbos." Without blinking an eye, Yosef sweetly replied, "I missed you too, rabbi." To this, the rabbi laughed in acknowledgement at the brilliance of Yosef's response.

Now, I too have been using this response ever since that day.

My second pet peeve is when people use the phrases "im yirtzeh Hashem" (If Hashem wills it) or "bli neder" (without vowing) as a linguistic loophole to avoid being direct. If you decode the underlying meaning to these words, the person is essentially telling you that they have no intention of doing what you asked them; they are attempting to stealthfully weasel their way out of it by hiding their true intentions in the cloak of a pious-sounding expression.

When I asked Chabakuk Elisha about this phenomenon he responded in an e-mail:

Once I got the im yirtzeh Hashem answer from someone and I said, "Say Be'ezras Hashem [with Hashem's help] instead of im yirtzeh Hashem."

He thought about it and said: "Ok, Be'ezras Hashem"

I then asked, "Why the pause? You wanted to see if you could say that and still not intend to do it, right?

He smiled as I said "busted..."


At June 18, 2008 at 6:43:00 AM EDT, Blogger Leora said...

Our response to language is so individual. I would never think of "I missed you" as being judgmental, criticizing our absence, but rather as welcoming.

You remind me of when I was first pregnant with my first child. People sometimes said "how are you feeling?" and it made me uncomfortable. Why hadn't they asked me when I was younger and single and much lonelier? But they meant it in a nice way. I was physically a little uncomfortable when I was pregnant, but emotionally I was feeling great!

We have to forgive people a bit. They are trying to connect in the way they know how.

I like B'Ezrat Hashem. It puts the work on us to do whatever it is, and God is there to help us out, not to do everything for us. Makes us more responsible people.

At June 18, 2008 at 7:37:00 AM EDT, Blogger Alice said...

I agree "We missed you." is code for "I noticed your absence and am holding it against you." It's a very Southern way of jabbing someone. Sort of like the way people in the South say, "Bless his/her heart" right before they rip into someone, most likely in their absence.

(For the record I love living in the South. It's just a funny observation. I think people are pretty much equally nice North or South.)

At June 18, 2008 at 8:11:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Gavriel said...

I had this dilemma just the other day. I wanted to let a friend know that he was missed at a monthly Kabbalat Shabbat service and dinner that he normally attends but I also did not want to make him feel bad or that he needed to justify why he wasn't there. So, I awkwardly said "We missed you but I'm not saying that to make you feel bad, just to let you know that we missed your presence here." I couldn't think of how else to put it.

A Simple Jew, what do you use in place of saying "We missed you" ?

At June 18, 2008 at 8:14:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Gavriel: I am not sure. However, my natural inclination would be that it would be better to remain silent...

At June 18, 2008 at 8:22:00 AM EDT, Anonymous yehupitz said...

Wow. I have never disagreed with one of your premises so much. I use "We missed you" or "I missed you" when I see someone who was not in shul for a Shabbos, or for a shiur. I assume, usually correctly, that the person had some sort of obligation or reason for his absence. And I am letting the person know that he is not someone who I don't care about. It's my way of saying,... get this..."I missed you." i.e. "I like seeing you here, and things were not the same here without you around."

I guess I agree with leora. "Our response to language is so individual."

At June 18, 2008 at 8:46:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Hesh said...

How about when people say mazel tov at weddings to you and then walk away as if they don't actually want to talk to you- but you made eye contact with them.

I wrote about the im yirtza thing- there is a post- just click on my name and it will bring you there.

At June 18, 2008 at 8:31:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...


What's your own recommended phrase to denote "I want to do it but won't guarantee it" ?

There are times when it's proper to say that.

At June 18, 2008 at 8:47:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Bob: Perhaps something like "It is my intention to" or "I have every intention to".

At June 19, 2008 at 2:08:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Yirmeyahu said...

I have to disagree, albeit mildly, on either account. This complaint reminds me of those lodged against the use of "Baruch Hashem" in response to an inquiry on one's well being. To me the error in this kind of thinking is somewhat encapsulated in the following passage:

"A not uncommon complaint of those who take too narrow a view of legitimate uses of language concerns the way in which words are "wasted" at social functions. 'So much talk, and so little said!' sums up this kind of criticism. And more than one person has been heard to remark, 'So and so always asks me how I am. What a hypocrite! He doesn't care in the least how I am!" Such remarks reveal a failure to understand the complex purposes for which language is used." (Introduction to Logic, Irving M. Copi, 5th Edition, page 55)

In the first case, I think it is important to recognize that a community has a legitimate need to ensure more than minimal participation of it's members. Your chaverim need you there. You are an essential part. Perhaps you do have legitimate reasons, even just down time. The phrase does, or at least can, connotate that there was a degree of expectation/obligation for you to come, but at the same time the fact that it was phrased in this manner rather than even a mild rebuke or challenge of your absence indicates that the commenter is probably trying to be dan l'kaf zchus over your absence. I do not agree with your characterization that the phrase is generally reflective of a "misery loves company" attitude or resentment that you failed to participate. What right does one have to take it to mean anything other than the event would have been more enjoyable with your presence, barring any sarcastic tone or other obvious indicator of insincerity?

Likewise, I don't see what basis one has to try to read other people's mind when they qualify an indication to act with an "im yirtzeh Hashem". Even when we can detect that it is said in a way that the speaker believes that the "ratzon" might be that it won't work out, who are we to suspect that it is because they don't plan to give it a serious effort or otherwise think in cannot happen? Shouldn't we rather take it as a sincere commitment that someone recognizes that they will have a great challenge achieving? Why is it better to qualify one's agreement by saying they "intend" to rather than an explicit recognition that Hakadosh Baruch Hu might not allow that intent to come to fruition?

Perhaps I'm reading this all wrong and am just feeling argumentative today. Even so it seems to me that one case is being critical of a perceived use of language perceived as imposing an unsolicited obligation on oneself (and criticizing a failure to met that obligation) while the second is being critical of the perceived use of language to passively evade an unsolicited expectation one has placed on others.

I hope you don't take this as a criticism. We all have things that grate on us and I'm no one who should give mussar about finding other people's behavior annoying. When these things pertain to social norms about how to express oneself, I think the key is to work at being less bothered by them rather than to justify them. It is probably more fair and will lead to less aggravation in the long run.

All that being said, I suspect that your annoyance is more out of the fact that these phrases remind you of instances, or a number of instances, where they were used in a way that indicated the attitudes which you attribute to them more than you really assume that this is what is meant by anyone you happen to hear utter those words.

At June 19, 2008 at 8:55:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz.. said...

i'm a firm believer in saying what you mean.

true, other people will say things in order to evoke certain feelings or responses that may take away from the day to day meaning of a phrase or a statement.

but, we know that statements that come from the heart enter the heart.

When i say I missed you i mean it.

Sometimes people have taken things i've said the wrong way, but as they've gotten to know me and know that what i've said is completely genuine they've come over to my way of seeing things.

The important part is to be genuine, not the words you use to be so.

The power of deep love bein adom l'chaveiro that speech is capable of exposing is more powerful than any biting remarks anyone can say. But only through continued application over time.

when i was dating my wife (years ago) she heard me talking on the phone to my brother, i ended with "i love you." and she thought "oh no, he's one of those fake americans, who use heavy words lightly" Eventually she learned how powerful it is when you go out into the world and care genuinely for other people and don't hide it.

One of the things you will find is the more open and genuine you are with someone, they will begin to be open and genuine back to you, without even being aware of it.

ps. i think this is a midah we see often by tzaddikim, we are immediately impressed by their tremendous love for every person through the genuine words. I learned it from my father, he learned it from my grandmother, i don't know where it came from originally. But, it's definitely a positive force in the world. (and the basis of all i do.)

At June 19, 2008 at 9:01:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Yitz: This is EXACTLY the way I look at things as well.

I think you beautifully summed up the point I was trying to make in just once sentence that you wrote:

"The important part is to be genuine, not the words you use to be so."


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