“V’asita hayashar v’hatov b’einei Hashem.”
“You shall do what is right and what is good in the eyes of Hashem…”
Last time we learned about the concept of lifnim mishurat hadin, going beyond the letter of the law, or doing the more-than-right thing as it applies to Step # 5.
Learning to Apply Step #5 in School
Walking into the classroom during recess time, a third grader found several of the boys teasing one of their classmates about his obesity. He was terribly troubled about his friend’s feelings and he knew he should do something to help, but wasn’t sure what the best approach would be. He was sure that if he reprimanded the boys they would tell him to mind his own business, or worse still: make fun of him.
He agonized over the situation for a few moments and then came up with a plan. If he could just create a diversion and draw their attention away, they just might stop what they were doing. Perhaps, he thought, I can speak with them about it when things are calmer. He quickly and loudly called the boys to his knapsack and showed them his new video game. Much to his relief, the plan worked and they stopped ridiculing his friend.
As we learned in Step #1, the boy in this story faced something that each and every one of us faces daily: the fact that we all must constantly make choices. From what we choose to wear in the morning, to what we eat for lunch, to how carefully we pay attention in class to how we treat everyone with whom we are in contact, we must make hundreds of choices each day.
How we make choices is an important measure of our mentschhood!
The Four Choices
When we observe behavior that is anti-social, exclusive, hurtful, aggressive or abusive, we usually have four choices. What are the four choices the third grader faced when he was confronted with the other boys’ misbehavior?
1. There’s the wrong choice: There can be many wrong choices. In this case it could mean joining the boys who were making fun of the overweight classmate. People often opt for this choice since they feel better if someone else is being teased. This means that they can be safe for a while.
2. There’s the neutral choice: Doing nothing and thinking to himself, “At least I’m not being mean to him.”
3. There’s the right choice: In this case, it could mean telling the boys that they were doing the wrong thing. Perhaps he could add that they were going against the Torah and even tell them that they should feel ashamed of themselves. Yet this might not be the best approach. The problem with this choice, as the boy already realized, is that most of the time children don’t like to be lectured to by other children. In fact, they often take their annoyance out on the person delivering the message. Clearly there are many cases in which the “right” choice might not really be the best choice after all.
4. There’s the better-than-right choice: In this case we might say that the boy chose the better-than-right approach. Although it was more difficult for him than making the right choice, his efforts brought about a favorable solution for his friend and left open the possibility of helping the others improve their behavior as well. (Step #2)
What About Tattling?
לא תלך רכיל בעמך
You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people…
Sometimes when students see someone doing something wrong, they feel that they must immediately tell the teacher or some authority figure about it. In these situations, it is very important to remember the rules regarding lashon hara (see Step #2) and rechilut, talebearing.
As a general rule, “telling on someone” is wrong, especially if one just wants to get the other “in trouble.” When a student sees another student doing the wrong thing, his first obligation is to try to stop it on his own. Only if the person doing the wrong thing is likely to hurt someone, be it physically or emotionally, is it proper to tell on him.
There is really no place for a “tattletale” in the classroom or in life. Parents and teachers must be very careful to avoid abusing the trust of children by asking them to “tell” on their peers without very strong justification.
An Important Tip
Why isn’t it enough to tell someone who is doing the wrong thing to stop doing it? After all, we learned in Step #2 that we are supposed to inform someone of his wrongdoing. While this remains true, the fact is that this approach is often unsuccessful. There are a few reasons for this:
No one, neither child nor adult, wants to be lectured to. When a child feels he is being lectured to by a peer, his first reaction is, “Who do you think you are?” or “Mind your own business!”
Most people also do not appreciate being criticized or corrected in public.
The person doing the correcting will be seen as a “goody-goody” and will have an increasingly difficult time fitting in with his friends and classmates.
Therefore, there are often better ways to correct someone without making even more trouble for oneself. Nevertheless, if someone finds that the only way to deal with the situation is to tell the person he is doing the wrong thing, follow these guidelines (similar to an “I” message):
Never correct someone in front of anyone else. (Try recess or snack time.)
Address the person by name.
Try to be friendly and avoid the appearance of being better than the person or “talking down” to him.
Even if this approach doesn’t seem to work, at least initially, in many cases things might get better after a few low-key reminders.
Stanley Fischman is currently the supervisor of general studies instruction at the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was a yeshiva elementary principal for 35 years and also served as director of general studies at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus. Recently he celebrated his 50th anniversary of educating Jewish children. He is the author of “Seven Steps to Mentschhood—How to Help Your Child Become a Mentsch.”