A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from a friend of mine who adopted a religious lifestyle later in life. In a most excited voice, he was calling to inform me of some great news.
"Guess what? I get a mazel tov! I became an einikel! Our daughter just gave birth to a baby boy!"
I was totally overjoyed for him, and I am not sure if I would have said what I should have, had I not been so happy for him. On the tip of my tongue was a comment such as, "Guess what? You just became a proud zaide (grandfather), but you became an einikel (grandchild) when you were born almost fifty years ago." My reason for not correcting him at that point was to avoid putting a damper on his great moment of becoming a zaide.
His happy proclamation stuck in my mind and I was tempted to call him up and correct him. I didn't want him to continue making the same foolish mistake. However, I hesitated for some reason and I convinced myself that surely someone else had corrected him by now.
Several weeks went by and I decided to phone him and see how things were going. I was hoping to hear some statement that would indicate that he now knows that he became a zaide.
Even with the passing of several weeks, he was still excited. He began sharing how pleased he is with the direction of life he took fourteen years earlier. He was still making that same foolish mistake.
Many thoughts went through my mind at that moment. I was curious to know how many people he had informed that he became an einikel and why no one had the decency and to correct him. It then hit me that I was one of those people lacking the decency.
I decided that I wasn't going to get off the phone before I pointed out his mistake once and for all. I must have told him, "I want to point out something for your attention," a dozen times. Then, as he waited to hear what I had to tell him, I shared a different thought about "grandfatherhood" each time.
Sticking to my personal pledge not to hang up without pointing out his mistake, I finally gathered all the courage I had and, with the help of the Divine, the words came out. "I want to point out something for your attention," I said. "In Yiddish, the word einikel means grandchild. You became an einikel to your grandparents when you were born, and your grandson became one to you when he was born."
Because of the type of person this zaide is, for the next five minutes he couldn't stop laughing. Instead of getting insulted or being embarrassed, he laughed and laughed. When he was fully composed, he told me how he must have made that mistake hundreds of time. He felt foolish as he realized that he must have also made that same mistake when he spoke to his son's in-laws, who were raised culturally and religiously observant.
I knew that I wasn't being a good friend when I didn't initially point out his mistake. I asked him what I could do to earn his forgiveness for the embarrassment I caused him. At first, he didn't allow me to take responsibility for his mistake, but after much insistence, he agreed to forgive me if I would pass around the message of the importance of correcting people and correcting them as soon as possible.
Here I am fulfilling my pledge to convey this message. I wish it were as easy as that. The reality is that many people hesitate to correct people and some people have difficulty responding graciously when others correct them. We will discuss a number of pointers in dealing with this issue. The first thing to realize is that in the majority of situations, you will be doing a great act of kindness to the person you correct.
The reality is that all people need to be corrected at one time or another, and most people don't enjoy correcting others. I would be very concerned about a person who enjoys always finding opportunities to correct other people. This article is not addressing that minority.
I suspect that part of the problem in the way people accept corrections and the comfort (or lack thereof) with making corrections relates to how it is done. It may be worthwhile to mention — though it is obvious to some — that corrections are to be made in private and directly to the person making the mistake.
Two additional points to consider when correcting someone is the need to share the mistake as soon as possible and to share it without any lengthy introductions and/or pologies. In all likelihood, you are doing the person a great favor and there should be no reason for an apology.
Thus far, we have addressed correcting a mistake and have not specified who made the mistake or who is making the correction. My intention has been to address the issue of adults correcting adults. Correcting children who make mistakes and having children correct others — adults or children — are entirely different stories.
We know that the Halacha (Jewish Law) spells out very clearly how a child should correct a parent or a rebbi (spiritual mentor). In general, any time a child is going to correct someone, it should be done with the highest level of respect. I would also not want my child going around and correcting people. This, I fear, can result in the child being too critical and looking for mistakes being made by others.
Finally, when it comes to adults correcting children, we must be very careful and sensitive about how it is done. Parents and educators obviously know their children and students well enough to know how to correct them properly. Other adults, when aware of a mistake being made by a child, should, with sensitivity, bring it to the attention of the parent and not correct the child directly. I vividly recall my father's direction in this area. Once, when pointing out a mistake to a nephew of mine, my father z"l corrected me and said, "Let his parents raise him. No one appointed you in their place."
I will also share something that I have felt and heard from a variety of children. When pointing out a mistake, do it as directly as possible. For example, it is very common for a child to raise a hand in class and ask for permission to go and get a drink. The words a child will usually use for such a request are, "Can I go and get a drink?" The teacher, wanting to teach the child to use the word may instead of can, might comically respond, "I don't know. Can you?" Such a sarcastic form of correcting is not advisable.
Another example I recently heard was when a student spoke to a principal about a certain teacher and used the word "he" when referencing the teacher. To correct the student so that he would refer to the teacher by the teacher's name (Rabbi So and So), the principal said, "He is a pronoun." The principal was then shocked when the student replied, "I know. We just learned that last week in language arts class."
You may suspect that the child knew what the principal was getting at, but being straightforward with the correction would have avoided the possible chutzpah.
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