People often ask me where I get my ideas for my columns, and the truth is, often I will see and hear people interacting and it leaves an impression on me that I think is worth sharing. Sometimes it is a positive one; other times what I observe is quite disturbing and disheartening.
Sometimes a reader will ask me to write about something that he/she experienced in order to educate people – often to give them the benefit of that experience and offer some insight.
One person complained to me about the sad reality of difficult people. In Yiddish, there is a word that nails the essence of what can only be described as difficult individuals. They are krimme menschen. Now the word “krim” (or krum) technically means crooked, but that implies not straight or dishonest, which is not necessarily the case. When applied to human beings, it means warped, as often their thinking is distorted and awry.
The following example is based on a real situation.
A young lady, the youngest of her family, was getting married and of course the various machatanim (in-laws of siblings – there is no actual word in English) were invited. One couple had to drive several hours to come to the simcha. As the chuppah approached the michitin (sibling’s father-in-law) inquired as to what sheva bracha he was getting. The kallah’s parents were taken aback because they had not planned to give this man a bracha especially because none of their other machatanim were going to be called up. That was the case as well for the machatanim on the chassan’s side. There were roshei yeshiva and rabbanim who were slated for kibudim.
Sensing the michitin was going to feel slighted, the parents explained the situation to an elderly uncle who graciously gave up his spot. With a sigh of deep relief for a “situation” that was averted, the parents joyfully walked their daughter to her new life.
After the chuppah and throughout the meal, the kallah’s parents noticed that these particular machatanim were aloof and barely joined in the dancing. It was later conveyed to them by their child that her in-laws were insulted that her father-in-law was given the third, but as it turns out shortest bracha,the one that ends with yotzair ha’adam.
This is krimkeit – when an individual has an inflated sense of importance and expects to be treated according to his “higher” status. The fact that other machatanim did not expect to get a sheva bracha at the chuppah just emphasizes how twisted this couple’s thinking was.
Not unexpectedly, after years of trying to please her impossible-to-please in-laws, catering to their demands and expectations, trying to placate them and give in to their demands, the young wife gave her husband an ultimatum: They move far away or get divorced.
Then there is another kind of krimkeit: gross indifference. Decades ago I would occasionally help out in my children’s school. One time, the field where the kids played during recess was particularly muddy, as it had rained heavily the day before. A child was brought into the office covered in mud, literally from head to toe. He had been playing baseball and “slid” in order to get to base. A home run for his team but a big mess for him. I called his mother and asked her if she could bring a change of clothing. From the background noise I could tell she was in a restaurant. She told me that she was busy and that he could sit in his wet clothes for the rest of the day. It would teach him to be more careful.
She isn’t much different than the mothers yakking to each other in the park while their toddlers are running around – sometimes barefoot where there are sharp stones or glass embedded in the grass, sometimes putting pebbles in their mouths or climbing on monkey bars that they are too young to manipulate – and scolding their kids who come crying to them because of a fall. Or a slightly older sibling is yelled at for essentially not doing her mother’s job and watching her younger sibling.
Another category of krim people are those who combine the above: over-inflated self-importance and gross indifference taken up a considerable level by adding verbally corrosive criticism, and belittling nitpicking. Not only do they insist that they are superior, that they are both right and righteous, but they constantly mock, disparage, minimize and put down those unfortunate enough to be connected to them. Yet, ironically, they themselves tend to be incompetent, easily flustered and frustrated and quite parasitical. Without you, they would be helpless and floundering.
Not only is there no hakarat hatov for your efforts, no matter what you do, he or she will demean you and point out how flawed you are. I have been at a Shabbat table where the food was delicious and beautifully presented, as were the silverware and dishes. The wife works full time and has several children, yet the house is always neat and the kids put together. When her husband realized that there was no salt on the table, he scolded her in front of the guests saying, “Can’t you do anything right? I bet so and so,” pointing to another guest, “knows how to set the table properly.”
Yet he needs his wife’s income to help pay the bills.
He is representative of the human leech who in a group project in school or on the job does the least and takes credit for the project’s success. When his/her co-workers step up to the plate and do the work that he/she is incapable of or is too lazy to do, he/she criticizes what they do, finding unwarranted fault, often bragging to the boss or supervisor about his or her “heroic” contribution.
I was once in a car with a couple and the wife would not stop nagging her husband about his driving. “You should have speeded up and made the yellow light. Now we will be late!” Moments later, “You are going too fast, do you want to be stopped by the police?!” Later, she insisted he go another way. “But the GPS says to go straight,” he pointed out.
“Are you going to listen to your wife or to a stupid machine? I heard stories of people driving off a cliff because of the GPS! Shut it off!” He complied. Later when we were lost, she scolded him because he should have known the way. Finally, this mild-mannered man pulled over and said to her, “You Drive!!!” The demeanor of this shrill bully changed immediately. “Oh no, no, you go ahead.”
For the record, I am not a psychiatrist or a mental health therapist and am merely offering my personal opinion and interpretation of what I observe, but I feel that there is one trait that all krimme people share; one that fuels their distorted view of themselves and the world they live in: low self-esteem. In my day, it was called an inferiority complex. I find that term more accurate because the ego is indeed complex.
In my eyes, it’s not money that is the root of all evil. It’s a very negative self-view, an overpowering feeling of inferiority, which, in my opinion, is the tragic outcome of dysfunctional parenting.
I will discuss that in my next column.
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