Kindness is such an essential Jewish trait that we are told to suspect that a cruel person is not really Jewish. The media constantly uplifts us with inspirational stories about saintly people who radiated love to their fellowman and did their utmost to avoid hurting others. Yet we are also told, “Those who are kind to the cruel will eventually be cruel to the kind” (Koheles Raba 7:16). It is not a kindness to allow ourselves to be abused, exploited or manipulated. By not taking protective action when possible, we encourage destructive behavior. The following stories are examples of naïve and trusting people who paid a heavy price for being overly “nice.”
1.Meir, in need of an accountant, immediately thought of his wife’s cousin Sam who had recently opened up his own office. But Sam had severe ADHD. His office was highly disorganized and each time Meir needed a document, he waited uneasily as Sam frantically looked through the mess trying to find it. The result was that deadlines were missed and Meir often had to pay fines. Although Sam kept reassuring Meir that he was saving him money, Meir was torn. He knew he needed to get a new accountant, but he was afraid to hurt Sam’s feelings. How would he face Sam at family simchas if he switched? What if switching hurt Sam’s confidence causing him to drink, or worse? The price of nice: Meir kept losing money and couldn’t even look at Sam when at family simchas anyway.
2. Sara liked to please others. When neighbors asked her to watch their children, Sara always said yes with a smile, even if though previously they had stayed out two hours later then they promised. She always loaned out various appliances, even though in the past some had not been returned. However, when her mother asked if she could take her elderly grandmother into her home, Sara hesitated. With her tiny, two-room apartment, this would mean putting her three children to sleep in the living room so that Bubby could have a room of her own. Furthermore, Bubby, who was always a very critical person, was showing signs of dementia and the children were afraid of her. In addition Sara had a full time job. However, Sara wanted to be like the saintly people she read about who would have welcomed the opportunity. So, she said yes. At first, she tried to be happy. When she told her husband that it was all too much for her and she wanted to quit her job, he reminded her that they needed the money. The price of nice: two weeks after giving birth to her fourth child, Sara was in the emergency room having experienced a full-blown panic attack.
3. Eliezer was proud of his ability to relate to mentally disturbed people; he was always inviting them into his home and showering them with food and compassion. The most recent person he invited home was an eccentric man in his 60’s who believed he is a prophet who could predict the future and heal the sick. His specialty is warning people about demons, which he claims, lurk in inanimate objects. Eliezer called me after his children said that this “healer” had told them not to look at trees, as looking would activate the demons. The man had also acted inappropriately towards Eliezer’s daughters. When I asked Eliezer why he did not ask the man to leave, Eliezer replied, “I can’t kick this poor man out of my house. He’s already been here for two years. Where will he go?” The price of being nice: His children feel they have lost their home and no longer respect their father who pampers a man they consider dangerous.
4. Although Miri is only twenty-four, she feels like she has been buried alive. Soon after her wedding she discovered that her husband was an Internet addict who sleeps all day and is up all night. When I asked her why she stays with him, she said, “I felt so sorry for him. He seemed like such a nebbuch. I was afraid that if I rejected him, he would be devastated and then I would feel guilty for having ruined his life.” The price of being nice: She has ruined her life and the lives of her three children, who are learning from their father that it is normal to be depressed and dysfunctional.
5. Michael had been married only a short time when he realized his wife had extreme mood shifts. She would be seductive and sweet one minute and then suddenly start screaming, angrily accusing him of not caring enough about her and not making enough money. There were even times when she struck him, especially if he was late coming home. His mother gave him pep talks, saying, “Your love will heal your wife. With patience and forgiveness, you will have a wonderful marriage.” He was too ashamed to admit, even to himself, that he was a battered spouse and most times he felt like a failure for not being able to make his wife happy. He was told by a therapist that his wife suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder and that such people are “unpleasable.” But when he told his wife that he could not go on, she became syrupy sweet, promising tearfully to change. Yet after a few fun-filled days, she found a reason to attack him again. As soon as he felt he wanted to leave, she became clingy and begged him not to abandon her. Finally he spoke to his mother-in-law hoping that she would be of some help. She basically told him hat if he left she would tell everyone that he had been abusive and make sure he would never be able to marry again. So he stayed, hoping that his wife would become more stable. And then, when the children came along, he stayed for them. The price of nice: a life of misery for both him and the children.
6. Zehava prided herself on being a patient and loving mother. Whenever her children asked for something she did her best to indulge them. When they spoke disrespectfully to her, refused to help with the chores or even kicked her when frustrated, she smiled and said, “I forgive you.” When teachers complained about their behavior, Zehava said, “I just don’t know how to say no.” Even when she found money missing from her purse, she remained in a bubble of denial; sure that time would solve all problems. When she asked her daughter where she got all the new clothes and jewelry she was wearing, she wanted to believe that her daughter was telling the truth when she claimed that friends had given these items to her. Zehava did not acknowledge the smell of alcohol on her daughter’s breath or the strange smell on her son’s clothing that made her head spin. Being such a nice person, Zehava kept trusting and forgiving. “Anyway,” she reasoned, “they won’t respect my rules even if I do try to set limits with them.” Zehava is a “pleaser” who feared losing her children’s love. But in her effort to be “nice,” she raised children who were narcissistic and manipulative, with no concept of what love means.
It takes courage to be honest, to stand up for our values and set firm limits with people who do not treat us with respect. When one’s physical or mental health are at stake, the Torah is clear that it is forbidden to do anything to harm oneself.
The Adahan Fund helps impoverished Israelis to buy food and other essentials, including medical equipment. Miriam can be reached at 011-972-2-5868201 or firstname.lastname@example.org