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Acting Respectfully Always Pays Off

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Dear Dr. Yael:
Although I agree with your advice to A Passive Reader (Showing Respect Gets Results, 4-20) about how to deal with difficult people, I emphatically disagree with your decision to take the blame for the impatient frum guy who was honking his horn. If you saw him run someone over with his car, would you take the blame for that too? If you had gotten a ticket, would you have paid it? If the officer had arrested you, would you have gone to jail? I am not a rabbi, but I would be surprised if not informing means taking the blame as well.

Meanwhile, the “young, impatient frum guy” sat there and let you take the heat for him. He may be frum, but he’s no tzaddik. In fact, he is a coward and should be ashamed of himself.

The simplest thing would have been to say to the officer, “It wasn’t me. Check other cars.” The officer must have been pretty ignorant himself not to see that someone else was blowing the horn.

Massering is very problematic, and sometimes it is used to protect people who have done terrible things. At best the guy honking the horn committed a nuisance act and not a crime, but for you to take the blame and the heat was plainly wrong. Best wishes, A Reader

Dear Reader:
Thank you for sharing your interesting thought, but you missed the point of my response. I am not advocating that people take responsibility for things they did not do. My point was how one should deal diplomatically in a difficult situation, so that an angry or argumentative person can be dealt with in a manner that mitigates the situation.

I received many responses regarding this column, including two amazing stories from people who found themselves in similar situations. Both stories are about people who committed driving errors and deserved to be ticketed, but were saved from getting tickets due to the way they handled the situation.

Although my intention is not to instruct people on ways to avoid getting tickets from the police when they are in fact guilty of a driving misdemeanor, I will share these stories so that people will learn that you get further in life – and become more productive – by speaking in a respectful and honest manner than by screaming or being disrespectful. Both stories are about the issue of ticket avoidance.

Story #1: One of my husband’s physician colleagues was driving slightly over the speed limit in a carpool lane on a Sunday when he was pulled over. He was late to his grandchild’s birthday party, having been delayed due to attending to patients’ needs in the hospital. When pulled over, he thought about how to handle the situation in a way whereby he would not be ticketed (which could have meant points on his license). He also wanted to ensure that he would not cause a chillul Hashem.

He decided that the best course of action would be that of respectfulness and honesty. He thus told the police officer the truth, speaking respectfully to him and explaining that he did not know that he was not allowed to use the carpool lane on Sundays. He also acknowledged that he knew that he was driving slightly over the speed limit, but that he felt the need to rush to his granddaughter’s birthday party to which he was late. He told the officer that he had gotten stuck all morning in the hospital treating patients. The officer, seemingly impressed with his honesty and respectful tone, responded, “Okay, doctor, be careful and do not do this again.” He then let my husband’s colleague go on his way.

I believe that what prompted the officer not to issue the doctor a ticket was the fact that the doctor spoke respectfully to him. He addressed him as “officer,” said “yes, sir” in a nice tone, and imparted the truth. His actions made the policeman feel that he was being treated with deference. The lesson: In many situations we can persuade people to be more lenient toward us by treating them with respect. This makes them feel that they are worthy of our respect.

Story #2: My friend was driving her son to his friend’s house for the purpose of getting a ride to his yeshiva dorm. It was around midnight and the streets were quiet and desolate. Being tired, she did not notice the red light on a side street and drove through it – and was suddenly pulled over by a police officer.

The officer took down her license information (she had no violations), saw a teenaged boy and luggage in her minivan, and noticed how tired and overworked she seemed. My friend apologized to the officer, saying that she did not see a light on the small street. She said that she stopped as if for a stop sign, and then made a right turn. She emphasized the point that she was a careful driver and would never purposely pass a red light. As she was very courteous, the officer told her to go home, saying, “You look overtired and overworked. Be careful.”

In both situations the drivers were guilty. But they dealt with their circumstances in an honest and respectful manner. So while I appreciate your letter, my point is that if we speak to and treat people with respect and politeness, we are more likely to be treated the same way in return. People respond well to words spoken to them in a courteous tone, and do not like to be disparaged. Thus, when making a point to others in a tone that demonstrates high regard for them and in a manner that makes them feel valued, we get much further in life.

Thanks for taking the time to write. I hope the two stories I shared with you and my readers more clearly brings home the point that I was trying to make in the column two weeks ago. Hatzlachah!

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