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Areivim - Speaking to Somone Who Doesn't Believe - Part Two
by Rabbi Shmuel Gluck

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Rabbi Shmuel Gluck is the Director of Areivim, an organization that offers counseling, crisis intervention and referral services for teens and their families.

4. It’s always difficult to try and convince people to change an issue that’s dependent on what their true thoughts are. They’re able to deny that they care about the subject being discussed, even if they really care about it. Months later, as I attempt to discuss a different topic with them, they’ll respond that, “you may have been correct about our last discussion, but I certainly disagree with you on this one.”

When people “close” themselves to themselves and to others, there’s typically a 3 months lag in their admitting that they’ve been doing it. People will admit to wrongs from their past as long as it deals with the parts of their lives that either can’t be changed, or will take so much work that no one expects that it’ll change. If they admitted to the issue at hand, it would force them to change, and therefore it becomes the new focus of their denial. As young adults mature they need to acknowledge this, be willing to accelerate the awareness process, and to confront the difficult issues that affect their lives.

They’re aware of what they’re doing; not allowing others to have access to their true thoughts. However, they should at least allow themselves access to those same thoughts. I’ve learned to immediately be honest with myself about anything that I’ll eventually confront. Why push them off until later, when I will have suffered the consequences of not admitting to myself what my responsibilities really were, if I’m eventually going to end up dealing with them anyway?

5. As they mature they begin to appreciate that it’s not a perfect world and neither are the people that live in it. Those people that have mistreated them have shown glaring contradictions between their own personal, and public, behavior and have all contributed to their rejection of the Frum community. When they were young they expected everyone to be close to perfect. They also generalized, grouping many people together, when only one or two of them may have mistreated them. In addition, they ignored their own inconsistencies and faults.

Years later, they certainly understand that the world and everyone in it are not perfect. What they must do is to revisit all those incidents of mistreatment, and see how they can be understood with their new, more practical, view of the world.

As a part of this discussion I remind them, that most of them would like to discount their mistakes by claiming to be victims. They blame the older student who bullied them for years, their parents, their older siblings, and, in some cases, also those individuals who used more extreme measures against them. Although it may be true that these people were against them, I tell them that these people were also once victims, and this led them to act as they did. Being victims only explains why they did what they did in the past, it doesn’t excuse them from continuing the pattern and/or fixing the problems. It may explain the past, but it doesn’t license them to continue it into the future.

The difficult part of asking young adults to reevaluate these past incidents is that many of them have strong emotional components. A parent who rejects a child is doing more damage than just an imperfect act from an imperfect parent. It’s a parent!! It’s a respected community leader!! It’s a best friend!! When trying to revisit the incidents of their past, their emotions will override their intellect. (I’ve written about this previously, and it’s available upon request.)

6. Another aspect of looking at life with a more mature outlook is that many young adults find out that life is hard. Working at two jobs in order to pay for car insurance so as not to have to take public transportation is difficult. The decision to remove themselves from any family or community support may have been more difficult than they originally thought. They should ask themselves one more time if what they’re receiving is worth more than what they’ve given up.

Particular thought should be given to the fact that they’re not babies anymore and won’t be treated as such. Even for those young adults whose parents’ will never accept them, there are usually other relatives, past teachers, or friends, who’ll open their homes and hearts to them.

People can become distracted from thinking about their previous decisions. One of those distractions is their new, exciting, life, full of fun and entertainment, which tries to create diversions for them from their guilt. Some of the additional factors that cause them to deny their guilt include:

a. Anger, which blinds them from a willingness to think about their past. The anger may have come from a parent, a teacher, or the community. They feel the anger and it prevents them from moving ahead in life. They need to realize that their anger controls their lives and is not letting them make any responsible decisions.

b. Believing that if they become Frum again they’ll have to return to their parents’ or own previous level of Frumkeit. This may not be true. They should be open to considering what level of Frumkeit they may be comfortable with and work towards that goal. (I’ve written on this subject and the article is available upon request)

If their present lifestyle is the one that they truly want to keep, then it becomes very difficult to explain to them why they should change. Most young adults have friends, who as teenagers, lived the way that they’re now living but may have by now settled back into their old communities with their old friends. Knowing that their friends were once certain that they’d never return, but have returned, should cause them to rethink their own firm beliefs that they’ll never return. Life is fluid, something that was perceived to be right at one time, may not always remain right.

If they eventually do change, then the time before the change becomes “lost years”. Therefore, immediately after rejoining the community, they must start to make up for lost time by winning the confidence of those they love and respect. This often requires a career change, something which will, again, cost years of their lives.

Despite our decisions to make life simpler, life is not simple and will never be. Success in life, and being comfortable with ourselves, is not achieved by avoiding responsibilities, or by avoiding how we really feel. The avoidance only pushes issues below the surface. Sooner or later they’ll float back.

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