Privacy is Important
Chukat-Balak (Numbers 19:1-25:9 )
A big part of respecting people is respecting their privacy. In this week's Torah portion, the Jewish nation traveling in the desert got special praise and a special blessing because they were careful to pitch their tents in a way that the openings didn't face each other so they couldn't see into each other's tents. Privacy is an important value that deserves our respect.
In our story a kid gets a view of the value of privacy from both sides of the fence.
"PRIVATE, FIRST CLASS"
Jon pushed the monitor button on the telephone. He was feeling a little bored, so why not have some fun and listen in on his sister Lori's phone conversation?
"...then we went into just the coolest new shop...I thought that purple one was just adorable..."
The conversation didn't seem so interesting - not like last night's - so without bothering to turn the monitor off, he stepped out of his room to get a snack. When he got back, Lori was standing there, bright red, with her arms crossed in front of her.
"How dare you?" she snapped.
"Don't try to deny you were listening in on my private phone conversation. I could hear the monitor halfway across the house. Don't you have any respect for privacy?"
The boy just shrugged as she went on.
"You're always sticking your nose where it doesn't belong! It's not right. It's really not right!" Lori turned and stormed out of the house. Jon hurried to his desk to grab his binoculars. It would be fun to watch where she was going from out his window and tease her about it later.
Lori was always making a big deal over nothing. What was this big 'privacy' thing she was always complaining about? It wasn't like he had hit her or taken anything of hers, after all.
A little later, Jon went to check the mail. He had the feeling that report cards were being mailed out any day now and he certainly wanted to intercept his before his parents saw it. Sure enough, the stiff manila envelope had arrived. Jon brought it into the house and opened it up.
Ouch! It was even worse than he thought. Boy, were Mom and Dad going to hit the roof. If Lori ever saw this, she'd laugh her head off. She was a star student who would cry if she ever got a 'B.' He would cry for a 'B'. He knew he'd have to show his parents his report card eventually, but at least he could make sure that Lori never saw it.
Jon was on his way to bring it up to his room and stick the envelope into the bottom of his closet, when the phone rang. Since the closest phone was in Lori's room, he picked it up there. She didn't like him to barge into her room - that 'privacy' thing. But so what?
"It's Kenny. We have an extra ticket to today's game and my dad said I can take a friend. Wanna come?"
"Are you kidding? Sure!"
"Okay, but if you want to come, you have to come NOW. We'll be in front of your driveway in about thirty seconds."
Wow, what a lucky break, he thought as he clicked off the phone and raced out of the house.
It was a great game and Jon was having so much fun that he'd almost forgotten about the terrible report card he'd gotten earlier. Suddenly he went white. THE REPORT CARD!!! He was in such a hurry to get to the game, he forgot to hide the envelope. Even worse than that, he had left it right on Lori's desk next to her phone!
Jon's team won, but he couldn't care less. All he could think about was how when he got home his sister would be laughing at him, and his parents, who she would surely show the report card to, would be doing anything but laughing.
He tried to sneak in the door when he got home later that afternoon.
"Hi Jon," his mother said.
Oh no, Caught! But why does Mom look so happy?
"Just in time for dinner. Wash up and come on down."
Could it be that Lori hadn't given it to them yet?
He raced up to Lori's room full speed. Maybe she didn't come home yet. He threw open the door and there was Lori on the phone.
"Hey - ever hear of knocking!"
"Um, Lori, um, you know...I sort of left something in here."
"Yeah, an envelope. So?"
Why wasn't she laughing at him?
"Um, do you know where it is?"
"Of course, it's right here on my desk, right where you left it. I've told you a million times - don't come into my room. Why can't you respect my privacy?"
Jon cringed. "And, did you look at it?"
"Of course not. It's your private envelope, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but I thought..."
"Here," she said, handing it to him. "I believe in respecting people's privacy and I wish you did too."
Jon grabbed the envelope and ran out of her room, yelling, "Lori, thank you! Thank you! From now on, believe me, I will!"
Q. How did Jon feel at first about respecting people's privacy?
A. He didn't think it was important.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He saw how glad he was that Lori had respected his privacy and decided that is how he should be too.
Q. What new life lesson did Jon learn that day?
A. He hadn't considered it important to respect his sister's privacy and that her complaints were unjustified. But, after he experienced both the bad feeling of thinking someone had invaded his privacy and the relief of seeing it wasn't so, he realized that it was an important and worthwhile value.
Q. What are some ways we can respect people's privacy?
A. We shouldn't listen in on people's private conversations or read their private letters. If we find out something private about them, we shouldn't repeat it to others. We shouldn't go into their room or use their property with out permission.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. In your opinion, are their ever times when it is ethical not to respect someone's request for privacy?
A. While respect for privacy is an important value, if we know or have a strong reason to believe that someone is secretly doing things that are seriously destructive to themselves or others, we can be actually benefiting them more in the long run by uncovering his secret in order to help him than by respecting his right to privacy.
Q. What do you think it might mean to respect our own privacy?
A. The way we show respect to others is the way we should show respect to ourselves. People with self-respect know that just as others have a right to privacy, so do they and will not reveal parts of themselves, neither their body nor their thoughts and feelings to others in ways that violate their self-respect.