"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."
-Stephen R. Covey
There was no sugarcoating it, my friend reached out to me for help and I failed him.
We can only play the hand we are dealt. He didn’t deal me an easy hand, but that isn’t a valid excuse for my failing him.
This friend of mine is someone whom I respect. He is an absolute genius and a wonderful person.
He was already married and a father when he called me out of the blue. He wanted to ask my advice.
He felt like he was struggling with his yeshiva studies and he wanted to know what I thought about the idea of him joining a certain program. The program that he was asking about was an outreach program where one goes through a two year training period, followed by a three year period where one needs to move abroad, into a community which requires outreach.
I told him that it wasn’t for him.
I told him that his shy personality didn’t fit.
I told him a five year commitment wasn’t good for him at this stage of his life.
I told him that it wouldn’t be healthy for him and his wife to be away from their respective families.
Not to leave him empty-handed, I suggested to him to switch to a yeshiva with a different learning style (switching from nezikin to kodshim).
He thanked me, but I could tell from the way he thanked me that my words left him uncomfortable.
The next time we spoke was a few months later.
This time it was to tell me that he and his wife were getting divorced.
Then it hit me. When he called me asking about moving away to do outreach, he wasn’t asking about outreach, he was trying to let me know that he was having Shalom Bayis issues, and he just couldn’t bring himself to say it.
I didn’t put two and two together until it was too late.
Often I talk about getting people to use their voice. Using one’s voice isn’t just referring to the physical action of speaking. It also includes the ability to choose the correct words, and conveying them to the correct individual.
There are two possible reasons for why my friend didn’t outwardly mention his Shalom Bayis (marriage) issue with me earlier.
Either he was scared/uncomfortable or he himself was in denial about the main issue (marriage trouble) and he only saw the results of the issue, namely the learning.
If only I had dug deeper and not taken his question at face value.
The plot of this story is a common plot when it comes to children.
Often children will have a problem and they will be either too afraid to mention their issue, or perhaps they know there is an issue, but they don’t know the main issue. (e.g. The issue was the marriage, but all that was presented to me was the learning issues)
They will then come to the parent suggesting a remedy. (e.g. Joining the outreach program and move abroad for 3 years)
What do you do?
Do you take the question on face value?
Do you listen to their suggested solution and offer an opinion on it without knowing what it is a remedy for?
In the case of my friend, his suggested remedy would not have helped him. He would have had the same marriage issue, only now he would have already have signed himself to a 5 year commitment.
Your child’s suggestion could very well have the same issue. If you don’t know the problem how can you possibly believe that the solution would work?
Don’t be afraid to dig deeper. Get your child to open up, and if you aren’t succeeding in getting them to open up, connect them with someone who can.
Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.
You can email Yisroel at firstname.lastname@example.org
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