Dear Rabbi Gruen,
I had the zechus of listening to the lecture you gave at “keiravtuni” on Torahanytime.com. I found your theory very interesting. I had a few comments on your presentation, and would be curious to hear your response.
First, allow me to say how insightful I found your lecture. I’m definitely a UV. I identified with many of the characteristics you described in your presentation, and felt you hit on some key points of my personality of which I was not aware. I look forward to reading your book once you finish it! Aside from gaining more self-awareness, I think I will gain valuable skills for managing my middos. But I must admit that I was troubled by two parts of your presentation.
Firstly, I was troubled by the basic assumption that all people who fall into the at-risk/OTD/etc. category are UV’s, and that understanding how UV’s work can help you mechanech your child in a way that will keep him on the derech. I'm sure you have given this speech, or ones like it, dozens of times already. If after your presentations you would ask the audience whether they had a positive view or a negative view of the UV as a whole, what do you think they would say?
Maybe this is just my perception, but you seem to focus on the negative sides of the UV. If you play the recording over and count the number of times you mentioned the negative aspects of the UV (fragility, inflexibility, over-sensitivity etc.) vs. the number of times you mentioned anything positive about the UV, you would find that almost nothing at all was mentioned of the UV’s ma’alos. Also, in the short time you spent discussing the red/blue/yellow personalities, you basically only mentioned their ma’alos. If you think I'm exaggerating, you can play the tape again.
The other personality types were portrayed as being basically okay, whereas the UV was presented as the “problem personality” that needs to be solved. As a UV, I was cringing as I heard the chesronos mentioned without hearing any ma’alos, except the few mentioned כלאחר יד. Without a positive context for the UV, parents may walk out of your lectures feeling that the UV is a problem, which could make their child look at himself as a problem. Parents of UV’s know the negatives of their children already, and I don’t think that’s what will help them parent their UV child appropriately. אדרבה, it might encourage them to look down at their children, רחמנא לצלן.
I imagine that you would agree that the way to help people mechanech their UV children would be to look at children of all types as equals: seeing the ma’alos and chesronos of each one so that all children can be educated בבחי' חנוך לנער על פי דרכו. I would mention that the yellow is fun and happy-go-lucky, but also has a tendency towards ליצנות and קלות ראש, that the red has power and charisma but a tendency towards כעס and גאוה, that the blue is passive and easy-going but also has a tendency towards laziness and עצבות.
Especially when you mention the UV, you could talk about their ma’alos, about their depth of character, deep feeling for others, deep feeling in avodas Hashem, clarity of hashkafa, bikush ha’emes (I hope that in the עולם החסידות honestly wanting to understand the reason why we do things isn't an עַוְלָה). If you talk about their passion and convictions then maybe parents and mechanchim will successfully be able to be mechanech their UV children/ students, when they see and appreciate their child as being good, beautiful and having lots of potential.
If, as parents, we look at the child as being a problem, we exacerbate the already difficult life of the UV. His insecurity causes him enough self-doubt and absence of self-esteem without his parents looking at him as a burden.
A parent should be as proud of his UV child as he is of his other children. We are no worse in Hashem’s eyes and we have an incredibly rich experience of the עולם הַרֶגֶשׁ and התלהבות בעבודת ה' and sensitivity towards others that other kinds don’t have.
I hope you don’t find this request chutzpadik. If you really believe that the UV is just as good as the other types, why don’t you mention the names of gedolei torah who were UV, which will really show that you believe that the UV’s are beautiful in Hashem’s eyes, no less than any other type.
When you talk about the UV’s material as being glass, why not talk about the beauty of an exquisite stained-glass window, the sensitivity towards others. The all-or-nothing thought process of the UV should be preceded by saying: “When he sets his mind to something/believes something, there’s nothing that will stop him from accomplishing! What an amazing כח!” After your presentation, parents shouldn’t feel nervous/worried about having a UV child. They should walk away thinking: what an amazing zechus I have to have a UV child! He has ma’alos A,B,C etc… I'm so happy I became more aware of his needs so that I can help him bring out his great potential.” In short, I highly recommend that you show them the beauty of the UV child and not present him as a problem to fix.
Second of all, I disagreed with the way that the Torah was being presented, as being exceptionally controlling (which inevitably will rub the UV the wrong way). Why can’t we look at the mitzvos hatorah as being דער אבינו אב הרחמן’s guide that He gave us with love to help us live the most beautiful, meaningful life imaginable? (I have plenty of מראה מקומות on this topic should you be interested.) The mitzvos are the greatest sign of love from the רבונו של עולם – it’s a בפירושע משנה – "רצה הקב"ה לזכות את ישראל, לפיכך הרבה להם תורה ומצוות!" That isn't controlling, that’s lovingly guiding. This attitude is אמת לאמיתו של תורה for all personality types; חס מלהזכיר that the רבונו של עולם and his mitzvos are controlling!
I have more to say, but I’ll stop here. Do you hear where I'm coming from?
Looking forward to hearing your response (at your convenience) –
הכותב וחותם בכבוד רב על התעסקותו של הרב שליט"א לטפל ברפואת צאן קדושים –
Thank you so much for taking the time to watch my talk, and even more for taking the time to comment on it. I really appreciate feedback and it means a lot to me that you actually sat down to put your thoughts into words in a most respectful way!
I read and reread your letter, and I must say that it made a strong impression on me. Your points were certainly well taken, and I do plan on taking them into consideration before I speak again (which happens to be tonight in Lakewood).
I will address different points of your letter, but I am extremely hopeful that you will not take it as a rebuttal or an argument. I certainly do understand where you’re coming from and I think you made great points.
It’s always beneficial for me to see how different people see things differently, and that’s technically the underlying message that I discuss most often. I noticed with interest the things that you listed as מעלות and חסרונות, and let me explain:
You seemed to imply that that the fragility and sensitivity of the UV should be considered a negative trait. You also seemed to suggest that the “happy-go-lucky” attitude of the Yellow was a positive one. Even the low resistance of the Blue seems to have been viewed as essentially good in your eyes. I’m not sure if the reason why you took it this way was because of something you perceived as being part of my message, or if you actually feel that those traits are truly "positive,” but I assure you that this is not my position or opinion.
Without going into why the jolly attitude of their Yellow is not necessarily something good, or how bad an affect the low resistance of the Blue can cause, let’s try to stick to the main topic at hand, namely the UV characteristics.
I’m sure you’ve noticed whenever you buy some fancy dish or picture frame that the box says in the biggest letters possible FRAGILE. I never saw anyone put the box back down because they labeled it with that negative term. On the contrary, I think they are doing a favor to anyone buying something like that. The fact that they’re charging a lot of money because the dish or frame is beautiful is not in any way contradicting the fragility. If it wouldn’t be fragile it wouldn’t be glass; and it wouldn’t be beautiful.
The fact that a UV is hypersensitive is not something I see as a negative trait, nor do I see it as a positive one. I see it as something neutral, which can be used for good and bad. I also see it as being crucial for the people around a UV – or at least those close to a UV, including any UV him/herself – to be very aware of that inherent hypersensitivity.
It is specifically the hypersensitivity of the UV that causes him to strive for perfection. Is perfectionism good or is it bad? I don’t think it’s either. I think perfectionism is a neutral idea that can be incredible when used correctly, and can be fatal when not. If somebody were to be a perfectionist but not be aware of it, it could cause significant damage and friction when discussing anything less than perfect. There’s nothing wrong with being a perfectionist, but there’s can be trouble if the individual isn’t aware of it.
In one of my Shabbos talks (which obviously were not videotaped like the ones you watched), I spoke about how each person has their own natural gifts as well as natural shortcomings, and how each person must bring out the best in themselves. I did not in any way make any of the personalities sound better or worse than the others. Not because I was trying to be diplomatic, but because I don’t believe that any single one is better or worse.
However, when dealing with a topic like kids at risk, or already damaged relationships, it’s a different story. Obviously every message and idea can be sugarcoated, and in general that’s always the best approach, but when speaking to parents who are struggling with a child, I feel that my message resonates best when I do come across a bit blunt. Please remember that everyone in the audience – and I assume most of the people watching this online as well – are married and have children of their own.
When speaking to parents it’s a different story for two reasons. Firstly, parents love their children unconditionally – at least they should – and understanding that a child is more sensitive and fragile than the others is something that actually awakens more feeling toward that specific child. Also, I do not think most people go away with a clear understanding of exactly which of their children is UV, unless they are already dealing with a certain issue. Being that my message is to clarify what the issue they are already dealing with is, I think it’s best to be very open and clear about it, so they don’t get any compromising messages that will take away from the certainty of my advice.
Regarding why I do not specify which of our great leaders and sages were UV, my answer is as follows: Although very many great people were and are UV, and actually many of those that I respect most are UV as well, and always worried that when I point out who it was that was UV, people will start speculating and analyzing where the inflexibility and hypersensitivity of that person was. Instead of looking for how amazing that UV was, and how much he overcame his inherent tendencies that could have taken them elsewhere, people tend to gravitate towards looking for faults and negativity.
I’ll give you just one example. Say, I was to point out that Sara Schenirer was UV. I’m sure some people would say: "Wow! It just goes to show where her determined inflexibility took her while others probably laughter off and tried to discourage her." The fact that she did not bend for anyone and stayed steadfast to what she believed in is something that benefited all the Jewish people for many years, until today. However, I remain concerned about pointing out something like that, because sometimes people can draw the opposite conclusion, namely: "Aha! I knew there was something wrong with her! While she certainly was revered by her students, she was divorced twice, and seemingly was not a great wife. Maybe her marriage would’ve been better if she wouldn’t have been given over to her school to such an extreme. It’s known that she actually even slept in the dormitory with the girls. Extreme behavior? How about the fact that she wrote the curriculum for all the girls with her own 10 fingers, and not let anyone else contribute anything to it. Control freak?"
There are certainly two sides to every coin, and I’m sure many people will look at the “negative” things that I pointed out as being courageous and holy. But given that when I say that someone was or is UV it can bring about negative messages, I refrain from doing so in public.
Remember, as long as I am discussing difficult children and those at risk, I'm attempting to point out things that are already noticeable in such children. I do not in any way mean to imply that all UV’s are at risk or difficult. As a matter of fact, I am married to one, and have two children that are UV, and I love them dearly. I don’t in any way think that the non-UV’s are better or more lovable.
Interestingly, even before I read your letter today, I was thinking about my presentation tonight. I came up with the following. Is there anything as beautiful as a fresh clean white piece of paper? Or fresh fallen snow? Is there anything as ugly as an uncut, unfinished and unpolished diamond? Is it question of which is more appealing, or is it a question of which is more valuable? I believe in every human being, and I believe in every UV! And I also believe that a UV must be treated in a certain manner in order to bring out the best in him or her.
With regard to exactly how controlling the Torah is, it’s a long discussion. Let me just say the following: Firstly, for an individual that does struggle with matters pertaining to kabalos ol, it is important to acknowledge and be aware of that personal challenge. It is also often a challenge that exists within a significant segment of UV children, as they tend to struggle with limits on their independence (which can obviously be a great trait to have in certain circumstances, and not so great a trait in other circumstances) and this character trait can indeed cause them to really feel that it is controlling. We can't deny that. Of course we try our best to present these limitations in a manner that shows them as positive and for the child’s own benefit -- as they are -- but without understanding how the child perceives them in the first place, such discussions into frustrating debates.
Secondly, while it’s clear that Hashem did intend to give us the Torah for our own benefit, it still is extremely controlling. There are no two ways about it; everything in the Torah is a must. Other things that are for our benefit are usually pick and choose. Nobody forces us to take advantage of a sale, or to accept a gift. But when it comes to the Torah, not only were KlalYisroel forced into accepting it, as we know, it remains mandatory today -- regardless of whether a person is in the mood for it or not, and regardless of whether he feels it is for his benefit or not.
It’s extremely important to remember that even when we try to convey that Torah ideas and commandments are what’s best for us, that it does not come across as optional or the better way of doing something. I’m saying that because I’ve seen people make this mistake. When a child has a question, it’s obviously best to come up with an answer that will resonate and will go along with his nature, but never should we compromise on what it is that is 100% mandatory. Even the fact that we are rewarded in the world to come, does not in any way mean that we now have a choice to decide if we want that reward or not.
Thank you for taking the time to read my opinions, and I thank you again for sending me yours. Your letter really meant a lot to me.
Dear Rabbi, I am happily married for 12 years now, and life is good. I have always looked at married life as the natural way of things, and I thankfully don’t feel challenged. Lately with so much awareness and help about problems that arise in marriages, I began to have my doubts about the complacent attitude I’ve been feeling.
Basically, my question goes like this: Is Shalom Bayis something requires constant work and continued improvement, or -- assuming that things are going well -- is there no need to work on fixing something that doesn’t seem broken? Sometimes we get the impression that it demands a lifetime of consistent work, and I wonder if that’s really the case.
Worried about being happy
Dear Worried about being happy,
I commend you for reaching out. People in situations much worse than yours are still afraid of rocking the boat, so I’d like to praise you for your brave approach.
Let me begin with a story: There was once a happily married couple and all seemed fine. Over time they kept on hearing from friends and neighbors about the wonders of marriage counseling and couples therapy, and about the many solutions and practical guidance that those people were privileged to receive to improve and repair their marriages.
One night over a cup of tea the wife expressed her worries to her husband, and said: “Is there something wrong with us? Everyone else is already getting advice and tools to iron out their problems; we haven’t even identified ours. I think we really need to see someone fast."
And that’s exactly what they did. They found a professional who came highly recommended and scheduled an appointment. The therapist told them that it would take between six and twelve months for them to get the proper benefit from the sessions, and without the slightest hesitation, they signed up for long-term couples therapy.
The good news was that, sure enough, after six months they really did identify problems in their marriage. The sad part was that after a year therapy, they still had not reached a single concrete solution to any of their newly discovered problems, and so they proceeded towards divorce.
While this story sounds almost comical, it’s not as far from reality as we may think. It is very important to differentiate between problem seeking and problem solving. When we say somebody is going for counseling and working on their Shalom Bayis, it’s crucial to understand if they are actually working on the peace and harmony in their home -- as the term would suggest -- or they are really working on their Machlokes Bayis; the disharmony in the home.
What happens when we use the wrong terms for the wrong ideas is that people tend to assume that Shalom Bayis is something that needs work on. We don’t go to doctors for our health; we go for our lack of health, or at least to prevent a lack of health. So while it is of extreme importance for people that struggle to find harmony in their marriage to go for help and learn how to re-create the harmony that they expected to find in their relationship, it is also important for people who are happy and content to not look for problems. It’s not because problems are supposed to be kept under the rug, but rather because when the problems are not there, looking for them can actually be destructive, and cause them to materialize.
Without a doubt, all people can find significant differences between themselves and their spouses, and that's why it’s important to remember that marriage is a bond between two different people, and it is not meant to be a battleground where each difference of opinion must be eliminated with one single opinion always emerging victorious. Differences of opinions and ideas are very often actually ideal, and a good sign of a healthy marriage.
I do think it is important to qualify all of the above, and acknowledge that just because someone says or assumes that their marriage is great, does not necessarily make it so. It is crucial for you to make sure that your spouse thinks just as highly about the wellbeing of your marriage as you do. I am reminded of an all-too-common scenario that I once heard from Dr. Benzion Twersky, about a couple who came to him for counseling. At their session, he turned to the young husband and asked “How long have you been experiencing problems in your marriage?” The young man quickly replied, “Six weeks.” As he began to turn towards the wife, he already noticed her shaking her head vigorously in disagreement. “And what do you say?” he asked her. “Nine years!” was her emphatic answer. Of course, I don't mean to imply that your spouse is not as happy in the marriage as you are, but I also don't want to neglect to mention it.
Marital problems aside, marriage is certainly a relationship that can use constant enhancement. We tend to meet our spouse when we were still fairly young adults, and it goes without saying that it takes time for two people to really bond. It is well-known that the infatuation people feel when they first met their spouse is something that eventually wears off, and as much as people would like for it to live-on forever, that stage is only there during the early phase of a relationship during which we hope it will allow for the development of a more substantial and deeper connection. This is not a "problem," and it shouldn't be misconstrued as if I am suggesting that the marriage usually devolves into challenges and hardship -- I just want to make clear that that original excitement in the relationship is not meant to last. It is therefore safe to assume that a couple happily married for two years is not nearly as bonded and close as the same couple will be after 10 years of marriage. In the same could be said about the marriage of 10 years in comparison to the marriage of 40 years.
It is actually a unique kind of relationship. For example, a mother and child bond almost immediately, and it’s difficult to say that the mother has less feeling or connection for a child of three years then she will for the same child at 13 years. Yet, the dynamics of marriage don’t work that way. As much as we want to bond and have a close connection, it is still a relationship that continues to grow and thrive, hopefully forever.
So while I do not think it’s important for good marriages to be “worked on”, in the sense of getting counseling and therapy, it is important to remember that even the best relationship can be enhanced constantly with nice and thoughtful ideas, as well as added measures of feeling and thoughtfulness. I think it is beautiful if couples who are happily married do come up with new ways to enhance their relationship, and bring it to new levels. Very often this is done in the most natural ways and does not need anything exotic for it to happen.
Let me end off with one more point I think is important to point out. One of the worst mistakes people make in their marriages is that they compare and contrast it with other couples they may know. It’s not within the scope of this article to explain how damaging that can be, and how incorrect it is, but I will suffice with saying that many a good marriage has been turned sour only by comparing it to other marriages -- both when the comparison was to something strictly imaginary and unrealistic, and even when compared to something that was closer to a reality.
May Hashem help you and your spouse to have a continuous harmonious marriage all your life; one that only keeps on getting stronger, happier, and more fulfilling.