This Means That

Let’s take a peek at Mrs. M as she flips through the day’s mail. Her eyes light up at the sight of an invitation. She’s heard that Mrs. P is marrying off her daughter. Though they haven’t known each other very long, she genuinely likes the other woman. Ripping open the envelope, she eagerly pulls out the contents.

Her face falls. There is no return card. She’s only been invited to the chuppah.

She feels chagrined. All those times she’d met Mrs. P at the store or the school, they had schmoozed at length, and with real pleasure. At least, it had been a pleasure for her. Apparently, Mrs. P felt differently. “I guess she doesn’t like me so much,” Mrs. M thinks sadly. “All those times we talked, she must have just been trying to be polite…”

Let’s move down the block for a glimpse of Mrs. R. as gets ready to leave for work. She is still reeling from her latest encounter with Esti, her teenaged daughter. Esti has suddenly developed very strong opinions about just about everything, and those opinions invariably disagree with those of her mother. In addition, the girl has armed herself with a nasty array of weapons, both the verbal and the non-verbal variety, to use when they argue. To Mrs. R, the eye-rolls are the worst. They feel like arrows piercing right through her heart. Each time Esti rolls those disdainful eyes at her mother, as she did this morning, Mrs. R is more sorrowfully convinced than ever: “I used to have a loving daughter. Now Esti hates me!”

Finally, around the corner, Miss B hangs up the phone. The shadchan tried to let her down easy, but she still feels the blow. She’d really thought the two dates had gone well, but apparently the bochur felt otherwise.

The shadchan tried to buck her up with platitudes about hope and patience and bitachon, but Miss B’s heart remains heavy. She’s been in the shidduch world for two years now, and the only weddings she’s danced at have been those of her friends. This latest disappointment seems to point to an obvious conclusion. “I’d better face it,” she thinks gloomily. “I don’t have the kind of chein that other girls have. No one will ever want to marry me…”

How many times a day do we fall into the pitfall of “this means that”?

Being at the receiving end of an apparent cold shoulder is painful. Teenagers can be tough. Disappointment in shidduchim hurts. But it hurts much more when we take the blow to what seems to be the next logical step: “She doesn’t like me.” “My daughter hates me.” “I’m unlovable.” Jumping to conclusions is a very human failing. And the reason it’s a failing is because “jumping” has nothing to do with logic or truth. It’s more of an intuitive leap. The danger lies in leaping in the wrong direction.

People easily fall into the “this means that” pitfall. Take, for instance, the young man who is convinced after a first date that he and the young lady in question are destined for one another, simply because their birthdays are one day apart… or they were born in the same hospital… or their grandparents live on the same block. He forgets that a random similarity of circumstance is not a sound basis for marriage. In his excitement, he forgets that there is much more involved in determining whether you wish to go through life with someone than merely discovering the places where your lives may have intersected. Perhaps, as they become better acquainted, they will find that they are well-suited; or, perhaps not. But “this” doesn’t have to mean “that.” The interesting confluence in the circumstances of their lives does not necessarily mean that a chuppah lies in their future.

A girl jealously tracks and tabulates the teacher’s comments in class. Morah told her friend that her question was “excellent,” while the only feedback she herself received was “Nice!” She jumps to conclusions: “Morah doesn’t like me.” Or take the boy who’s convinced that his rebbi has something against him because he doesn’t call on him every time he raises his hand. Or the employee who believes that her boss is hostile to her because he corrects her spelling on a letter he’s dictated.

All of them have taken something and interpreted it in the light of their own emotions. They have fallen into the “this means that” fallacy because they are attributing an inherent meaning to certain words, actions or circumstances. Words, actions and circumstances which may or may not actually possess the inherent meaning they think it does. Or even, for that matter, any inherent meaning at all.

Mrs. M’s invitation to Mrs. P’s daughter’s chuppah may not be a reflection of how Mrs. P feels about her, but rather an outgrowth of a crowded guest list combined with a limited budget. For all she knows, Mrs. P actually considers her a potential friend. Perhaps, by the time Mrs. P makes her next simcha, Mrs. M will rate a full invite. Right now, her instinctive leap to believe that “this” means “that” could be an error that will only hurt them both.

Mrs. R is reeling from her teenager’s apparent animosity. The simplest conversation can veer unexpectedly into a full-fledged argument. Those seemingly hostile eye-rolls convince her that her daughter “hates” her. While all along, her Esti may simply be going through a difficult period of growth. Adolescence is a time when children have to separate from their parents. Even kids who were closest to their parents have to pull away to a certain extent, sometimes in painful ways. The eye-roll that Mrs. R so abhors may be her daughter’s way of saying, “I’m not you. I am a separate person with my own opinions. I have to demonstrate that now and then; otherwise, I’m afraid I may be subsumed in your personality. I need to do whatever it takes to grow into the self I am meant to be.” The good news is that, once the growth has taken place, the relationship may be better than ever. In the meantime, however, Mrs. R is suffering from a UEC: An Unfounded Emotional Conclusion.

Miss B, our disappointed single, is making the same mistake. Obviously, no one is going to appeal to everyone. While it is true that some people are so filled to the brim with chein that they seem to have an advantage over those around them, the fact is that everyone has something. Concluding that she simply lacks the ingredients to fulfill her dreams only results in unnecessary pain for Miss B. The shadchan’s let-down does not spell the gloom and doom that Miss B thinks it does. Contrary to the message of her aching heart, “this” most assuredly does not mean “that.”

Teachers and bosses are in the unique position of having to constantly measure out feedback to those in their charge. Sometimes that feedback is careful and measured; at others, it is tossed out without much forethought. Either way, it most likely has more to do with the quality of the student’s or employee’s work than with any innate bias for or against them. Jumping to any other conclusion would be a mistake that, again, causes needless pain. There is plenty of legitimate heartache in this world. Why seek out interpretations of ordinary events that add to it?

Much better to adopt the attitude that maybe, just maybe, “this” is something other than “that.” The more our emotions are invested in the equation, the more likely it is to be skewed. Objectively consider the options. Speculate as to other possible interpretations. Take a harder look into the matter to ascertain the true facts.

Or even just wait a while. Because often, only time will tell whether “this” indeed means “that” … or not.