Don’t Play Mind Games; Be Upfront

Too many people like to play mind games. They won’t be upfront and tell you that they are in hospital and then they complain when you don’t visit. They won’t tell you that they are in crisis, but will complain that you didn’t ask. They talk in riddles and ambiguities and expect you to decode it. If you get it wrong, they lambast you for being simple or uncaring.

I believe most of these games are played out of insecurity. People are afraid to put themselves out there by telling you about their problems. They fear rejection; they fear that you might not respond with empathy and they can’t live with that. They will interpret it to mean that you don’t care about them; they will assume that they are unimportant to you, and they don’t want to risk that. So, they protect themselves by not telling you the truth upfront. They will hint it to you, and hope you understand.

When we describe the problem on paper, it seems obvious that keeping the information from their friends and hoping their friends will know enough to help them anyway, seems ridiculous. But in real life, we convince ourselves that it can and should work. When our best friend fails to show up on our doorstep after we hinted in the most ambiguous way that they might be needed, we fume.

We act as if we are angry with them, but we are not. We are angry with ourselves for not having had the courage to be upfront. It’s not pleasant to admit this truth, so we camouflage it and project the blame on others. The more stupid and careless  that I can claim they are, the more innocent I can claim to be.

We all know someone like this. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we can admit that we too are guilty of this on occasion. It is a product of insecurity, but the ramifications are immense. When we accuse others of something they haven’t done, we will either lose their friendship or destroy their equilibrium. Either way, we end up behind.

Don’t Enter
After Aaron’s sons entered the Holy of Holies unbidden, G-d appeared to Moses and instructed that no one may enter the Holy of Holies, except for the High Priest on Yom Kippur. A prominent Rabbi asked the following: There are many laws in the Torah that have exception rules. For example, a man may not marry his brother’s wife, but in the case of levirate marriage, it is required. A fire may not be kindled on Shabbat, but for the sake of the sacrificial offerings, it was required. These exceptions rules are not usually outlined in the biblical text. They were all received by oral tradition. Why is this exception rule built into the text?

He explained that so long as the subject is academic it is okay to speak in veiled sentences that are elucidated in further conversation. Academic texts are often dense, brief and difficult to navigate. It is intended that way because it is a summary of the theories and arguments that are presented in class or discussion format. Should a novice attempt to read the text without the benefit of the discussion, he or she would likely fail to understand.

However, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, clarity is vital. One cannot speak in riddles and expect to be understood. When the question is whether you are welcome in my home or not, I need to be upfront. I can’t leave it up to you and then complain when you crash my home at an inopportune time. On the other hand, if my friends know that to enter my home, they must await my invitation, I must issue that invitation and not just expect them to show up when it is convenient for me.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at