Sunday, January 08, 2006

Ironies

A while ago I wrote about my dilemma regarding sharing the events and experiences of my life with my family. Not much has changed in that regard, and although I have dropped numerous hints, I haven't come out openly about anything too blatantly. At times, I think they kind of understand how I'm changing, but every once in a while someone will say something to me that indicates that they really have no inkling whatsoever of how far I am from where they believe me to be.* Despite my desire to be open and honest with them, I still feel that they prefer a state of plausible deniability, and therefore I've refrained from revealing any specific details about my secret (and oh, so sordid) life.

It occurred to me that the situation is pretty ironic in a way. In most (or many) situations where a child is drastically changing or behaving in a way that the rest of the family is disapproving of, one often hears the following lament from the parents: "I don't know what's happening to him. He doesn't talk to me at all. I don't know what's going on in his life. Every time I try to reach out to him, he just clams up and doesn't share anything. I wish he would just tell us a little bit what's going on."

However, in my situation it's the absolute opposite. I'm more than willing to share, to explain, to discuss (as evidenced by my discussions with Earnest Yeshiva Guy). But no one (ok, very few people) from my family is interested in hearing anything about my life. They prefer to remain in the dark, blissfully unaware of how I'm changing or why. Kind of funny, no?

Recently, I was talking to a close family friend who told me that one of my family members had called them up distraught, saying they were afraid I was really "going off", and wanted to know what to do about it. The family friend plainly told them there was nothing they really could do, except daven. "He's not a kid anymore. You can't change him. The only thing left for you to do is daven."

Putting aside the dubious efficacy of such a suggestion, what really boggles my mind is how the most obvious and simple course of action escapes them (both the relative and the advisor). It would seem to me that if you want to effect a change in someone's behavior, at the very least, the most basic thing you need to do is know why they have chosen their current route. You need to understand them. To see what's motivating them and effecting them to behave in the way they are. So if this person really wants to do something, why don't they start by taking the most simple and sensible step, and talk to me? To discover why I have chosen this path? I'll admit that I don't think they will achieve their desired goal, but it does seem to be the most appropriate tack to proceed with.

My poor family. I kind of feel sorry for them in a way. They want to help. But they just can't seem to allow themselves to.

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* For example, my brother recently shared with me how he may shortly be joining a promising new kiruv program, and how excited he is about it, to be able to make such an important difference in people's lives. I was listening to him politely, nodding along, making the requisite complimentary remark, and all along thinking to myself, "Is this for real? Does he actually think I care for any of this? Doesn't he have any idea what I really think about the notion of a bunch of kollel drop-out's brainwashing kids into becoming frum?"

Evidently not. Now just keep nodding along. There you go... smile politely...

21 comments:

Jewish Atheist said...

It's a strange phenomenon that you will unfortunately become more and more used to. Frum people, on the whole, even those who love you, want to hear as little as possible about how and why you've "left the derech" to the extent that you have. It's as if to even allow the thoughts you've been having into their brains (even if they disagree) is so unthinkable that they'd rather just avoid the whole enterprise.

Aristotle wrote, "It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought
without accepting it," but most frum people prefer to entertain only thoughts they're already okay with accepting.

daat y said...

How much talking with you was there in general growing up?

Foilwoman said...

Stupid question: what's "daven"?

The Hedyot said...

daven = pray

The Hedyot said...

JA -
Well put. And another great quote from your arsenal.

Daat y -
Unfortunately, not so much, but growing up I mostly followed the predictable path laid out for me.

hi said...

"* For example, my brother recently shared with me how he may shortly be joining a promising new kiruv program, and how excited he is about it, to be able to make such an important difference in people's lives. I was listening to him politely, nodding along, making the requisite complimentary remark, and all along thinking to myself, "Is this for real? Does he actually think I care for any of this? Doesn't he have any idea what I really think about the notion of a bunch of kollel drop-out's brainwashing kids into becoming frum?""

It goes both ways. I don't know if you mean to say only that your brother is oblivious to your opinion of kiruv programs. But you do have to be happy for your brother on his terms if you want him to be happy for you in your choices on your own terms.

Chana said...

People sometimes prefer not to see beyond their reasons- as if by not looking, whatever it is will simply go away.

I've asked my parents how they would react if one of their children went "off the derech," as it were. This is because people we know have reacted in different, and often quite destructive, ways. Interestingly, my father and mother think the most important thing to do is to sit down with the child/ teenager/ adult and discuss what it is they find dissatisfying about religion/ why they are leaving. Keep the channels of communication open, I guess they would say.

Anyway, that doesn't pertain to your situation. It seems, indeed, ironical..and somewhat sad.

Chana said...

edit: beyond their noses, not reasons (whatever did I mean by reasons?)

dbs said...

One of the things that makes it so difficult is that those who are frum would like to believe that you are (at least partly) so. This isn’t out of malice, it’s just that since the Torah is the ideal path to ultimate happiness and good, they would like to believe that you are on that path as well. As a result, any small thing which can be used as an indication that you’re not completely a lost cause will be given undo significance. (“You see, he sat and benched with everyone else…”)

Here are some things which worked for me:

- Take small steps. Change is hard, this takes practice.
- Give yourself a break. Don’t constantly score yourself on how you’re doing.
- Have some faith in those who love you. 90% will act true to form, but you can’t predict who the other 10% will be, so give them a chance.
- I know that this is psychobabble, but remember that this choice is not only your right, but your obligation.
- More pop psych: remember that there is only one you. Not a “you” who is acceptable to yourself and a different “you” who is acceptable to everyone else.

Good luck wherever the path may lead.

Foilwoman said...

DH: I read this for a window into a world that is otherwise utterly closed to me, an outsider. While I have Reconsctructionist, Reform, and Conservative Jewish friends and family (I'm from one of those modern, blended families), the world of frum is closed to me.

So I understand that there is a cultural divide. I can't fathom the culture that would require cutting of contact with a relative, particular a sibling or child based on religious observance, yet that seems like a real concern for you and for others of different faiths (the Amish, for example, and other religions that require strict adherence to a variety of rules).

As a parent, I might disapprove of my adult child's (not yet, they are still little, but the day will inevitably come) choices in religion, mate, or whatever, but I cannot imagine something short of a capital offense where I would say: "This is no child of mine" or "I can't be with or see this child." Even considering criminal activity (which my children will, of course, never, ever even consider), they would still be my children. Any religion or set of societal rules that would try to make me disown or disengage would, I hope, fail. Maybe I'm just being pollyannaish about my own parental instincts. But I just don't understand the dynamic of cutting someone off because they have ceased observing the Sabbath or Shabbat or have ceased keeping kosher or halal or have ceased following behavioral rules such as praying five times a day or taking a ritual bath or whatever.

Any explanations or thoughts? I know it's a vague question, but who gets these families to distance themselves or even shun or disown their own children (not limiting this to Jews: Mormons, Amish, any religion or culture with a custom of shunning or ostracism or excommunication)?

The Hedyot said...

> It goes both ways. I don't know if you mean to say only that your brother is oblivious to your opinion of kiruv programs. But you do have to be happy for your brother on his terms...

The point wasn't to express my view of kiruv or my feelings about my brother. It was to show that by talking in the way he was, he obviously has no inkling about how different I am than he is.

The Hedyot said...

Chana - If only! That's exactly what I'm asking for. Communication.

DBS - Thanks for the advice.

foilwoman -

As hard as it may be to believe, it is a very sad reality, that families will cut off their own members when they stop being religious. It happened in my own (years ago to a relative) and to many people I know. Not all families react that way, but it is a concern for many.

> Who gets these families to distance themselves or even shun or disown their own children?

When it is done, usually the family does it on their own, not because of any external pressure. They often feel it incumbent on themselves to do it, sometimes to "teach a lesson" to the wayward child, sometime to set an example for any other children, and sometimes just becaue they are so heartbroken about the person's decision.

Foilwoman said...

This is an example of the quote, I think from Jewish Atheist's blog, but I'm not sure of why religious can be such a force for bad. Without religion (or an all-powerful belief system like totalitarian political or cultural groups), good people do good and bad people do bad, but religion can make good people do bad. It is so clearly wrong for a parent to reject a child. I can imagine turning a child who had turned criminal into the police (a la the brother of the Unabomber), but I can't imagine then saying "he's not mine." He probably doesn't accept his family's prison visits, but I bet they still try.

This whole "dead to me" concept breaks my heart. And, atheist/agnostic that I am, I say, unequivocally that it's just plain wrong (not Orthodox Judaism, specifically: any religion that requires, essentially, that a family sacrifice a member to remain "religious". I'll be irreligious. Thank you very much.)

If you do "come out" and get bumped, one can create families. Mine takes in strays, and I even have a brother-in-law (through parental remarriage) who's a rabbi. So feel free to call, should that happen, which I hope it doesn't.

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dbs said...

Foilwoman –

My parents did not shun me, which I consider to have been an act of great love. Most of my family and friends, however, have.

There is no single explanation for people’s behavior, but in order to understand the mindset, you have to try to reset some of your instinctive ways of looking at things.

Here are your new assumptions:

1. Anyone who is truly honest with themselves and is seeking truth will see the beauty and truth of the Torah.
2. People who were never exposed to the Torah are understandably not Frum, since they just don’t know any better.
3. People who do know better and become non-frum are simply making an immoral choice. This is understandable, since humans are prone to temptation. For example, everyone knows that it is wrong to steal, but some people steal. To ease their conscience, thieves will often rationalize what they know deep down to be wrong. So, you’re not becoming non-frum because of your beliefs, you are becoming non-from because you want to go and ‘fill in the blank’, and all these religious questions are just rationalizations.
4. Even if someone has doubts – which are certainly allowed – why should they not continue to be Frum? It is certainly a highly moral way of life. And, who knows, tomorrow you may again be a believer. Besides, it is unfair to cause such pain to your loved ones. Hence, not believing is one thing, but acting on it is selfish, immoral and shortsighted.

There’s more to it, but this is a glimpse.

Anonymous said...

Foilwoman and DBS,
I think part of it is that when you leave frumkeit, it's seen as a threat to their faith . They've become so imbued with being frum that it goes to the very core of their existence. They can distance themselves from the threat when it's a stranger, but not when it's family.

AMSHINOVER said...

why did you leave?

The Hedyot said...

DBS - Well put analysis of their thought process. I like it.

Anonymous - Also true. In fact, Earnest Yeshiva Guy who tried to save me has not-frum relatives, and I suggested he work on them first and get back to me. Alas, he didn't take my advice.

Amshi - Not sure if your query was directed at me or one of the commenters, but if it was for me, read the blog and you'll have somewhat of an answer.

Anonymous said...

Amshi,
This is the anonymous who made the comment about the threat.
Don't know if you meant me, but I still belong to an MO shul. I stopped doing many of the mitzvos over a period of time, for several reasons, some of which were: questions about the historical accuracy of the Torah, the manipulation that I saw on the part of many (but not all) in the frum community , the obsession with the minutia of halacha on the part of many in the community, the pointlessness of many halachas, the fact that many of the frum peoiple I knew didn't seem to be particularly well adjusted, the fact that being frum is psychologically tormenting because c'v's you should fail to do all the details of the halacha. In other words, for many of the same reasons others have mentioned on the frum skeptic blogs.

I still keep some things for the sake of tradition, (for example won't eat anything from a trefe animal), but I'm getting further and further away from frumkeit.

Hedyot, How could you do that to EYG's relatives? Actually he might have thought that since you were once frum ,you'd be more responsive to his arguments than his relatives.

Chana said...

I just wanted to tell you, Da'as Hedyot, that your entry inspired me to think about this issue/ how I understand it..so I suppose what I mean to say is that your thoughts were the ideas behind my new blog post. Thanks...

Foilwoman said...

Off topic, but DH, don't even think about another two-month break between posts. Seven days is more than long enough. Actually, that's too long. You have obligations to your public. I'd do the Jewish guilt thing, but I don't know how. I only do Scandinavian guilt, but you're probably impervious to that. Please post again. Now. Thank you.