KJ Hannah Greenberg


The morality of meaning influences our self-perception since we embrace ideas that are supported by our beliefs about ourselves and community. If, for instance, I posit that local cab drivers are untapped wells of sagacity, I will converse with them differently than if I regard them as unlearned laborers. That is, the nexus of our conceptualizations of “gist” and of “proper decorum” sways our approaches to interactions by prejudicing our responses to discourse.

Sometimes, our predispositions cull unfavorable reactions from the publics with whom we engage. Whereas “[o]ur conveyed thoughts must help our audiences understand our topics, develop our claims, be issued expertly, and provide no counterargument to our theses (“Incorporating Sources into Research Writing,” 4), concurrently, our words might overawe them.

Viz., when we reinforce our personal termini with lexes, now and then, we appear frightening. Think about how it feels to have a child politely refuse compliance with one of our entreaties. Whether or not our petition was appropriate, it’s eye-opening to experience a less vested individual establish a cutoff.

That dissonance notwithstanding, restrictions are healthy. Within relationships, we have certain rights, such as feeling safe, having our privacy respected, being heard, feeling validated, being appreciated, having “no” understood as “no,” having our needs met, and being treated respectfully, i.e., without emotional, physical, or verbal abuse (Hutchinson).

Unfortunately, not all of our connections are proper. Parents might infantilize their grown children, young adults might parentalize their spouses, etc. One tactic which saves us from exploitation is by engineering perimeters (Hutchinson). A thirty-something can remind Mom or Dad that he or she has long been earning an income, paying rent, grocery shopping and, apart from that, minding finances. A husband or wife can step away from reliance to reclaim the propriety of their own thoughts (borders also help to reify our identities).

Regrettably, certain of our contacts become annoyed, or worst, when we draw lines. Most often, those grownups have psychological problems (Cloud). Their egocentric foci is a manifestation of their poor self-esteem. Accordingly, when inhibited, they become bigoted, cruel, or violent. By and large, they loathe constraints as controls make it difficult for them to manipulate other persons.

On balance, it’s never our job to repair them. Rather, we ought to use our demarcations to safeguard ourselves, to help us identify what’s important to us and to refocus ourselves on those revealed values. Let’s say we test out Shabbat observance. Perhaps, we’ll find that we like Torah living. Liking that path, we might identify as “observant.” If dear ones object to our transformations, it behooves us to stay consistently and predictably steadfast in our ways.

Sure, variables such as social signification and the insight/rationality dichotomy impact upon our idea formation and our follow-through. It’s easier to make theological leaps when beloveds are supportive than not. Equally, some luvs are only willing to accept empirical arguments as rationale for shifts no matter that faith cannot be quantitatively measured.

Irrespective, mature souls often engage in creative acts. In the past, in most cases when our boundaries [were] crossed, [we] allowed it. As [children], we may have learned to allow it because we were helpless and depended on the big boundary-crossers for survival. But as an adult, unless a situation is extreme, [it is us who] usually participate[s] in the violation of our own boundaries by failing to properly defend them (Haas).

Beyond anger, would-be antagonists often become anxious when we pull up drawbridges to prevent their sieges. E.g., ponder what happens when we call out a vendor who had tried to cheat us. Often, the volume of that thief’s speech and gestures is worse than the (ordinarily) small financial loss that would have been incurred had we kept silent. Rebuffs can be menacing.

When viewing our own answerability in situations where people attempt to (re)define us, it’s helpful to weigh rhetorical, transactional, absolutistic, and relativistic liabilities. It’s helpful, too, to keep in mind that maintaining self-determination is often more difficult than devising it. “[P]opulist pressures [can] challenge accountability relationships, threaten the reputation of accountability actors, and result in alternative accountability practices” (Wood et. al.). Discouraging a date who disrespects one’s insistence on being shomer negiah, once, is tough. Doing so multiple times during a single outing requires fortitude. Continuing to see them, thereafter, is stupidity.

Too often, accosters request that their marks “engage in behavior designed to benefit [the assailants] rather than the target[s]” (Tracy et. al. 525, 534). For example, when someone in an apartment building’s vaad decides, on their own, to chop down trees belonging to all the residents (this deed actually occurred in my life), we oughtn’t to hesitate to name their action, challenge it, and insist that those parties provide restitution to the rest of the community. We oughtn’t to hesitate to buttress our margins.

When bullies attempt to discredit us with name-calling or with claiming we’re “aggressive” given that we have resilient margins, we need to withdraw, not engage. Later, from a distance, we can pray for or ignore them. Taken together, interpersonal interactions focused on bad choices, such as stealing shared resources, touching someone who doesn’t want touch, and talking one down or one up instead of one across, are actions at which we need to balk, and to which we need to reference Torah and civil law.

As our own best gatekeepers, we’re self-obliged to set up and maintain limits. We shouldn’t worry if folks don’t like us because we take care of ourselves.


Cloud, Henry. “How to Handle Those [sic.] Who Get Angry at Your Boundaries.” 14 Apr. Accessed 8 Dec. 2022.

Haas, Susan Blall. “If You Set a Boundary, Expect to Deal with Anger.” Psychology Today. 30 Apr. 2013. Accessed 8 Dec. 2022.

Hutchinson, Tracy. “What are Personal Boundaries and Why are They Important?” Accessed 8 Dec. 2022.

“Incorporating Sources into Research Writing.” Academic center for Excellence. Germanna Community College. Accessed 25 Mar. 2022.

Tracy, Karen, Robert T. Craig, Martin Smith, and Frances Spisak, “The Discourse of Requests: Assessment of a Compliance-Gaining Approach,” Human Communication Research, 10.4, 1984, 513-538.

Wood, Matthew, Felicity Matthews, and Sjors Overman. “Enacting Accountability Under Populist Pressures: Theorizing the Relationship Between Anti-Elite Rhetoric and Public Accountability.” Administration and Society. May 2021. Accessed 25 Mar. 2022.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.