Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 28 June 2014 / 30 Sivan 5774

Friendly Foible

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Terry

Dear Rabbi,

I am a friendly and outgoing person. I get along very well with most people. It’s natural for me. I have a friend who’s upset about that. She says it’s not right that I get all of the attention. She asked me to be less outgoing, to be more “modest” as she put it. When I did that, people were even more eager to talk with me - I guess they were concerned. So my friend told me I don’t have to be so nice all the time, and asked me to act uninterested in other people. But I think that’s mean and rude. Do you think I should act this way in order to take my friend’s feelings into consideration?

Dear Terry,

You talk as if your friendliness is a fault. Or at least that’s the way your friend seems to present it. But that’s not right.

When she initially asked you to act more “modestly”, I think she was clothing her desire that you be unfriendly in respectable terminology. When that didn’t work, she asked you to show disinterest in people, but you’re right in describing that more correctly as being mean and rude.

Your friend is not entirely at fault here, though. It’s natural that she, and others, might feel overshadowed by your popularity. She probably feels that when you’re around, she and others don’t get the recognition and attention that everybody desires.

The question is, should you be less who you are, or disappear because of this?

The answer is no. You should be yourself and not fake being either less friendly or more mean. Your ability to naturally get along so well with so many people is a G-d given trait and stifling it will withhold part of the blessing G-d bestows on the world through you.

So what should you do?

Make sure that you always recognize your strength for what it is, a gift from G-d, and not become arrogant because of it. You can also be more sensitive about giving, directing and deflecting more attention to people who may desire it.

It might also benefit you to develop other interests or hobbies which you enjoy doing alone or with just a few people. The main reason for this would be to avoid being one-dimensional and to ensure that your self-perception is not based solely on your interaction with others, but rather your being more multi-dimensional and well-rounded. A secondary benefit to this would be to give people like this friend of yours an opportunity to spread their wings too.

A great Chasidic Master, the Chozeh of Lublin, was once “accused” by an opponent of being too popular among the people. His critic suggested he act in a more simple fashion, and announce to the public that he’s much less important than they consider him to be. After doing this, the people endeared him even more. So the Rabbi’s critic blamed it on the people’s approval of humility and asked him instead to publicize his superiority and authority over the people. At this, the Rabbi exclaimed, “I tried to make less of myself in order to help you repel people from me, though that didn’t work. But I’m not prepared to help you repel them by lying and making myself out to be more than I am!”

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