Latest update: March 6th, 2012
I read your columns avidly and have been meaning to write to you. I appreciate the advice you give people and was hoping you could share some insight into an issue that has been bothering me – namely the prevailing self-centered narcissistic behaviors among the younger generation (older adults can be equally guilty). Mind you, I’m a female in my mid 20’s.
I used to think my parents were being too critical of young people, but, as time passes, I see their point more and more. I don’t know if the actions I have experienced are based in selfishness or cluelessness and can’t help but wonder what values their parents nurtured them with.
Please allow me to share some of my personal experiences in order for you to understand where I am coming from. While there are those with sterling characters who are truly altruistic and care about others, most people I know would rather limit their generosity and compassion to those whom they are close with. For example, my husband and I were moving to another apartment. We politely asked people we knew to help us move our belongings, but they made apologetic excuses as to why they weren’t able to spare thirty minutes to help us settle in. At the same time, someone in the neighborhood had a baby and everyone seemed to drop what he or she was doing to help the new parents and arrange meals for them. The best they could do for us was to advise us to hire moving service.
We ended up moving most of our things by ourselves. I’m sorry that I sound bitter, but I could only put up with that kind of attitude from people for so long. We are seldom included in social affairs. No one really made the effort to welcome us when we first moved in. We had to announce our arrival to everyone. We were invited out for Shabbos meals but were inevitably placed at the end of the table and ignored throughout the entire meal.
Prior to my wedding, I asked people to help with shtick. Some were more than happy to help; some were a little more reluctant, while others tried to evade the whole thing, yet I would see them helping their other friends whenever they were asked to. One of them even changed her plans so she could attend a friend’s wedding out of the country.
There were those who didn’t want to attend my bridal shower, claiming they were busy, but yet managed to spare time to hang out with their friends. Maybe it’s me, but it seems like every time I ask people for a favor (and I don’t ask that often), they make it seem like an imposition while they will go out of their way for their closest friends anytime.
I find this attitude to be hurtful and immature above all. I’m trying to understand where people are coming from. Should I accept that people are more selfish than they used to be? Or do they no longer know any better? If you can give charity to complete strangers, how can you not help a neighbor out? Does one need to be a family member or close friend to earn your favors? How are we supposed to emphasize the importance of chesed to our children when we won’t live up to it?
I thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts in this matter and anticipate your response.
Community (lack of) values
You ask whether people are more selfish than they used to be. That’s sort of an odd question coming from a person in her twenties. No offense intended, but how far back can you go in recalling how people “used to be?” Or are you simply repeating your mother’s words.
The world has surely changed. People can’t seem to find much extra time for anything these days. Aside from the fact that more and more wives have joined the work force, out of necessity, families, especially among the orthodox, are generally larger than they were in the years right after the war and that gives people plenty of things to be occupied with in their own homes. This is without taking into account the time frittered away at computers, on cell phones and other such gadgets.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the source of your problem without being there in person, but maybe the neighborhood you chose to move into is simply unsuited to you. Keeping in mind that not everyone relates to everyone else and not everyone is of the friendly, social or outgoing type, there are others who like to keep to themselves, preferring to be in the company of family members and close friends. For some, it’s all they have time for.
You say you asked “people you knew” to help move your belongings. Again, there is no way to know what your “belongings” consisted of, but not everybody is in a position to assist with lifting or carrying heavy items, and unless you were relying on really close buddies, your better bet would have been, as some advised you, to hire a professional mover.
This is not to say that immature, selfish and stuck-up people don’t exist, but just the same, as a rule, it is far better and wiser not to resort to relying on others to do things for you, unless you absolutely have no choice. Moreover, why would you want to feel indebted to anyone, let alone wish to burden someone?
While extending an extra hand to those in need is most admirable and, yes, a chesed, most people don’t like being imposed upon or made to feel that they are being taken advantage of. (Chances are that the couple that had the baby didn’t ask for help; it was given freely.)
I know a man who, when sitting at his own table, will never ask anyone – be it family member or guest – to pass a napkin or any other item that is not within his reach. Rather, he pushes his chair back, stands up on his own two feet and fetches the item himself. His response to anyone questioning his quirky modus operandi: “What am I, an invalid?”
His method may be extreme, but his message is noteworthy.
Speaking of messages, Purim offers a wonderful opportunity to reach out in a non-intrusive way to anyone whom you simply haven’t gotten around to be in touch with. Mend a rift, right a slight, or just convey you care via a delivery of shalach manos. The idea of extending gifts of food to one another on Purim was initiated in order to emphasize our unity, in joy and in friendship.
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About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.
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