> Family > Mom with a View


June 20, 2013 | by Emuna Braverman

It’s getting really hard to keep your private life private.

The password on my computer is MYOB – mind your own business. I thought it was appropriate (although now that I’ve revealed it in such a public fashion I have to change it!). I also think it’s a slogan that could be applied in society in general today, expressed more politely of course.

Not only do many people have no shame about exposing their private lives on national television (thank you Reality TV), but they don’t have any appreciation that others may be unlike them and actually have some boundaries.

I heard a story recently about a woman undergoing fertility treatment, certainly a private topic. “How many eggs did you freeze?” inquired an acquaintance at a cocktail party. No shrinking violet, the embarrassed woman shot back, “Why, did you want some?”

Boundaries please. And a little sensitivity.

Another friend recalls someone she had just met asking if she planned to have more children. “I’m not sure,” she replied, “but you’ll be the first to know!”

T-shirts with MYOB displayed in giant caps seems like a harsh way to go but it’s getting harder and harder to keep the world at bay, to keep our private lives private, to erect a fence around what’s precious.

Many years ago, I was walking down the street pushing my two oldest children (11 months apart) in a double stroller and expecting my third. A woman drove by, did a double take, screeched to a halt and got out of her car. She ran over to me. “I’d kill myself if I were in your situation. I’d just kill myself.” And she left. Did I ask?! Do I care about her opinion? Why was I subjected to her verbal assault? Why didn’t she just MHOB (mind her own business)?

For some reason, money remains taboo. The same people who think that an expectant woman’s stomach is available for public patting (would they dare pat it after she gives birth?) would never ask what someone’s annual income is, gross or net. I’m not sure why money remains off bounds or why it is considered more private than the discussion of intimate bodily functions.

And speaking of which, my husband recently called a businessman he learns with to set up an appointment. “He’s not in the office today,” chirped his helpful secretary, “he’s having a colonoscopy.”

Too much information (TMI)! groaned my husband to himself. Did I really need to know that?

“Guard your tongue” means more than refraining from gossip; it means that we should be careful about whatever we say. We should exercise judgment and caution before we speak. We should be thoughtful and sensitive and not cross personal boundaries, no matter how curious (read: nosy) we are!

We are taught that the defining characteristics of the Jewish people are that we are compassionate, kind and have a sense of shame. Not shame as in bad and debilitating psychological discomfort, shame as in “some things are private and appropriately so.”

Holding on to that sense today isn’t easy. And even when we try, we are frequently confronted by others who lack that desire and try to break through our barriers. So we need to come up with some polite but firm responses for those of us who can’t think of witty comebacks. “I’m sorry, we’re keeping that private.” “I’m not comfortable discussing that in public.” “That’s personal, don’t you think?” (Said with a smile and not aggressively) “Let’s talk about something else.” And of course, “How about those Dodgers?...”

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