Photo Credit: Jewish Press

It’s obvious that we all know not to take a stroll to a construction site, and hang around the machinery. That would not be conducive to arichat yamim – lengthening our lives. What I’m referring to are what I call human bulldozers – individuals (or families, or communities) that insist that you listen to their “sage” advice, because they know what’s best for you. Often, they really don’t. But they insist, push, and assert themselves.

And when the likely outcome results in disaster for the person, the bulldozers absolve themselves from any responsibility, because they “meant well.” And unbelievably continue their “know it all” behavior.

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Actually, a more appropriate word for these types would be BULLYdozers, for that is what they are – bullies. But I will refer to these men and women as bulldozers, because they mow you down, and flatten your will and resolve with their relentless insistence that you “listen” to them. For your own good – and they will not take no for an answer.

Many people have paid an incalculable price for being nagged into making decisions that they were uncomfortable with, and were greatly undermined socially, financially, emotionally, and even health-wise.

I know of a widow in her late 50’s, who was looking to remarry. She was overweight and had some health issues. She was struggling financially as her late husband – while hard-working – was not much of an earner. Dates were few and far between, but each time a man seemed interested her married children insisted that “she could do better” and cajoled her into turning them down. “He’s a baal teshuva;” or “He still has unmarried children at home;” or “Why uproot yourself and move to a different city where you won’t know anybody;” or “He’s 10 years older than you, you’ll end up being a caregiver.”

She did not have the resolve to stand up to their incessant opinions and state, “It is my life!” Years later, she’s still single and still alone, and still being told, “she could do better.”

A situation that I’m sure happens way too often is when a friend or relative pressures someone who can’t afford to lose money to “invest in a sure thing.” When the person approached is hesitant, and would rather not risk his savings, he is bulldozed into doing so. “This is a sure thing, don’t you want to quadruple you money? Your $50,000 will double to $100,000 in no time, and then double again. That will pay for your daughter’s seminary and you can support your new son-in-law for five years!” Instead of taking no for an answer, there is so much pressure exerted on the hapless fellow, and despite his gut feeling that it’s not a good idea, he rationalizes that his brother-in-law wouldn’t mislead him or downplay the risk.

When that investment sours, it is the bulldozed fellow who now has lost his nest egg.

But the bulldozer isn’t likely to lose too much sleep, unlike the distraught fellow who now has sleepless nights wondering how he’ll handle his financial obligations.

Over the years on Yom Kippur, I have often wondered why we recite the Al Chait prayer so many times during davening. We apologize over and over, pointing out dozens of our transgressions during Shmoneh Esrei, and during its repetition. Surely Hashem hears our remorse for our sins – whether they were deliberate, unwitting or by omission. We even beat our chest over bad behavior that we know we didn’t commit! We know for a fact, for example, that we didn’t malign our parents, because they passed away years earlier. So why repeat prayers of contrition and self-blame to Hashem. Surely He got it the first time, and hopefully forgave us.

I feel that it’s not for His sake we say Al Chait so many times – it’s for our own benefit, similarly like when we say a brachah when we go to the bathroom, or eat, or get up in the morning. Taking a few seconds to do so enhances our realization that we are healthy, and with awareness comes appreciation and simchas hachaim. The point of repeatedly reminding ourselves about our shortcomings is getting people to own their mistakes; acknowledging they did something wrong, and hopefully getting into the habit of saying, “I’m so sorry!”

In a recent column, that was entitled, The Commandment to Admit You’re Wrong, guest writer Rabbi Chananya Weissman points out, “a person’s instinctive reaction upon realizing he’s wrong about something is to become a ‘defence attorney’ for it…Rashi observes that the motivation to act like a defence attorney is shame. People consider it shameful to admit they were wrong.” So they don’t, rationalizing, “ He/she is an adult. I didn’t put a gun to their head.”

How many shadchans, or friends, or relatives forced others to make choices that ended up being ruinous? They very likely in good faith offered advice (possibly suppressing any possible misgivings they themselves had) and that should have been the end of it – making a suggestion, pointing out the pros and cons, and letting the person make an informed choice.

Instead they refused to let it go; and imposed their will. Whether the outcome turned out to be a minor inconvenience, or a life changing disaster, how many have bothered to offer a personal Al Chait – an admission of fault for the grave damage and loss they caused.

But why do bulldozers take on such a huge responsibility – pushing someone to listen to them, until they cave in? And downplaying their role, if the outcome is harmful.

Bulldozers tend to be arrogant “know-it-alls.” However I believe their bravado in many cases, is actually fuelled by a serious lack of self-esteem. On a subconscious level, they very much need to bolster their fragile egos – to feel important and needed and of value. Hence they press their opinions on those whom they sense will give in and so they nag, insist, prey and pound, until the “bulldozee” succumbs to the pressure. After all even a strong nail will bend if it keeps on being hammered.

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